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Stories of war to be brought to life by veteran

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:56 p.m. CDT

GURNEE – Ceasar Soto was just enjoying being back from Vietnam in 1969 when a group of young people began harassing him at a bar in New York. The bartender, a Korean War veteran, told the group to get out of his bar, but the youths were waiting for Soto down the street.

They trapped him, tied him up, beat him, spat and urinated on him.

“We expected something different when we came back,” he said

Soto was just 20 years old, having served in the U.S. Army C Battery 2nd Battalion 320th Artillery of the 101st Airborne Division. He volunteered at 17 and had a parent sign his papers so he could be in the war in May 1966. Even though it has been 45 years since he survived combat, the undiagnosed post traumatic stress still haunts him today

Soto is the featured speaker from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at a free presentation open to the public at the Warren-Newport Public Library, 224 N. O’Plaine Road, in Gurnee. Called “The Stories of War From Those Who Have Been There,” the program is organized by the Lake-McHenry Veterans and Family Services program affiliated with the Lake County Health Department.

Founded in 2012, the program is designed to engage veterans who are often reluctant to seek help on issues ranging from job and benefit issues to emotional stress caused by deployment, reintegration, and family issues. Currently, there are approximately 40,000 veterans in Lake County alone, according to the Lake County Veterans Assistance Commission. Of those veterans, 20 to 25 percent struggle with mental health issues. The presentation on Monday is designed to honor veterans and promote conversation among all veterans and their loved ones about their military experiences

“From the battlefields of World War I to the deserts of Afghanistan, the sacrifices of those who served affect their lives and those who care about them for years to come. Aging Vietnam veterans represent more than 50 percent of those who come to Lake-McHenry Veterans and Family Services for counseling and services most of which were not available when they were younger,” said Steve Ruohomaki, LMVFS clinical supervisor

Lake-McHenry Veterans and Family Services started in 2010 through a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services grant and support by the Lake County Health Department and the McHenry County Mental Health Board. Services are available to any American veteran with any kind of discharge and their families, the families of the fallen, and active duty service members in any branch of the Armed Forces, including Reserves and National Guard. Adjustment issues for the veteran and family members related to pre-deployment, deployment, re-deployment, post-deployment, and re-integration issues as well as discharges of any type, can be addressed through services provided by the program

The program is assisting the health department in reducing barriers to care that impact veterans

For information about Lake-McHenry Veterans and Family Services, visit www.health.lakecountyil.gov/Behavioral/Pages/Lake-McHenry-Veterans-and-Family-Services.aspx.

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