‘Help each other:’ Local organization connects generations of veterans

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A sign supporting veterans is posted outside the Brownsville meeting area.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — For the past year, local veterans from different eras got together on Tuesday morning to share and connect their experiences.

A poster board showcasing S.T.A.I.V.A upcoming events and programs. (KVEO photographer Sal Castro)

Hosted by the South Texas Afghanistan Iraq Veterans Association (STAIVA), the Peer to Peer sessions is an opportunity for local veterans to communicate with one another. The sessions offer veterans a chance to share stories and learn about programs available to them. It’s all part of letting local veterans feel safe and let them know they are not alone says Marine Corps veteran Laura Serna Marquez, who serves as STAIVA public relations officer.

STAIVA was created to help veterans and their families transition to civilian life. Serving as a non-profit organization, the goal is to make sure veterans are provided with the necessary information and emotional support to succeed in their new environment.

S.T.A.I.V.A public relations officer Laura Serna Marquez stands outside the meeting area. (KVEO photographer Sal Castro)

“We continue to talk amongst ourselves until we are able to understand what it is, that what we need to learn or understand how to cope, it’s not to get rid of it, the PTSD, it’s not to get over, its to learn how to cope,” said Marquez.

A big part of the sessions involves being fed mentally with questions answered. The sessions first started a year ago in Harlingen before the pandemic and moved to Brownsville after a brief pause.

Due to their status, STAIVA was able to continue to hold sessions. Something that member and Marine Corps veteran Miguel Altamirano is very grateful for.

Marine Corps veteran Miguel Altamirano stands up to speak. (KVEO photographer Sal Castro)
Veterans at the peer sessions group see a presentation regarding burial arrangements and the importance of having the proper paperwork. (KVEO photographer Sal Castro)

“Its offers a chance… to share common experiences to learn about applying coping methods for whatever symptoms one may have whether its PTSD or needing that shared friendship of veterans who may have served in our era before or after,” said Altamirano.

Having served from 1976 to 1980, Altamirano says it’s the common experiences that connect them.

“To see the different eras of veterans that make up these service times is so, so

interesting,” said Altamirano. “Because as things change some them of remain the same.” Even though years separate them, a common connection remains.

Veteran Armando Estrella knows this all too well, who served two different wars, Vietnam in 1969, Desert Shield, and Desert Storm.

“We share how to deal with certain situations when we came back to the world and it’s a great experience knowing you can help another veteran deal with those situations,” said Estrella.

Veteran Armando Estrella sits at his desk listening to the presentation. (KVEO photographer Sal Castro)

Being able to connect and share is one of the main factors of the peer-to-peer sessions but that is not the only thing. Every biweekly meeting focuses on different programs and lessons for the veterans. Next for the organization is a fundraiser to continue providing the multiple services they offer. Any veteran is welcome to join STAIVA or their peer-to-peer sessions.

“The most important thing is when they come here is getting information, good information on how to deal with certain situations,” said Estrella. “We are here to help.”

For information visit STAIVA or their Facebook page.

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