New Sails to Help Set Soldiers’ Minds at Ease
Pay4Ward: Veterans Helping Veterans, a local organization dedicated to helping veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is receiving new sails via a donation through the Middlesex County Community Foundation. These sails are going to help organization founder Ray Hayes get more veterans in need of a day of peace out on the water.
Hayes is himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, who has had to learn how to handle his own PTSD. He started Pay4Ward about three years ago after finding his own peace and refuge in sailing.
“I was in the 82nd Airborne, a radioman. I walked around with a 20-foot antenna, and it made me the biggest target around. I survived that for 13 months and four days,” said Hayes.
His experience lets him connect with younger veterans, and others, because he knows firsthand what it is like to manage PTSD.
“I deal with it every day. I know it,” he said. “I know how to avoid it and what is going to trigger it.
“Sailing is recreational therapy. It’s relaxation and freedom,” continued Hayes, who lives in Deep River. “Move a muscle, change a thought. There is a lot of work to do on an older sailboat, everyone gets to work as a team, like an infantry squad works as a team. You get that teamwork to come back.”
Through Pay4Ward, Hayes takes veterans out for a sail—for free—on trips he offers from May to November. Last year, Hayes wasn’t able to take as many trips as he wished because his sails would tear in high winds. This year he hopes to go out as many times as possible during the summer, which will be easier with the new sails. The new sail cover will also bear the unit patch of all who have gone out in the boat with him.
Jim Duncan, the outreach coordinator for the Hartford Vet Center in Rocky Hill, has seen many of the veterans with whom he works reap the benefit of Hayes’s time and generosity.
“A lot of our vets come down here. Water calms the soul of a soldier,” said Duncan. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Vietnam veteran or a 22-year-old Iraqi vet—water calms you.”
The vet centers were started by Vietnam veterans in 1979 after they received little to no aid or compassion from society after returning from service. The outreach and care provided by the vet centers is the same as Hayes’s motivation to serve veterans in need: the knowledge of what it was like to not have help or understanding available to them post-trauma. Though the centers are a branch of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (V.A.), the V.A. cannot access the records held by Vet Centers. This allows veterans of any generation to get care and support without worrying about it affecting their ability to serve if still active. What happens at the Vet Center stays there.
As to how many veterans are in the area who might still need help, Duncan said, “We have no way of knowing, especially Vietnam vets. They were treated so poorly when they came back that many just said ‘never again.’”
However, the vet centers work to bring in veterans such as Hayes and help them to find the community they need to face the lingering effects of the war. The multigenerational community also helps younger veterans, said Duncan, citing this as part of the vet centers’ success.
“Everyone helps, and the word spreads. Young guys don’t know that you can survive this, but there is walking knowledge from these guys [Vietnam veterans].”
“You have to know that it gets better for a moment, especially this moment,” said Carmine Falivene, a Vietnam veteran from Essex and friend of Hayes. “It [the PTSD] doesn’t go away, but it fades a little bit.”
“They get in this boat, forget about it for several hours, and they learn there is a way to forget about it for a while,” said Duncan.
“I see relaxation on the guys’ faces [when they are sailing]—maybe they don’t think about suicide this month,” said Hayes.
For more information on Pay4Ward, to arrange a day out on the water, or to help the organization’s work, email email@example.com or call Ray Hayes at 860-227-4154. If you or someone you know could benefit from more information on Vet Centers, visit www.ca.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp, or call the Hartford Vet Center in Rocky Hill at 860-563-8800. There are also centers in Danbury, Norwich, and Orange. For those struggling with PTSD or anything else, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.