As part of Veterans Day activities held on the Island this weekend, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center screened the film ‘Mending the Line’ on Sunday evening, and hosted a panel of local veterans.
The screening was held as a fundraiser for the Island Housing Trust, which is working on an affordable housing project for on-Island veterans.
The film, directed by Joshua Caldwell, follows John Colter (Sinqua Walls), a soldier wounded in Afghanistan, as he struggles with rehabilitation at a Veterans Affairs (VA) site in Montana. While living with guilt and flashbacks resulting from the deaths of soldiers under his command, Colter hopes to be cleared soon to return to active duty. After responding poorly to group therapy, the VA’s Dr. Burke (Patricia Heaton) pairs Colter off with troubled Vietnam War veteran Ike Fletcher (Brian Cox), who has only been able to find peace through fly fishing. Colter is unsure of his future, and Fletcher is abrasive and resistant toward him. The two must learn to deal with each other before they can address their personal traumas.
The veteran panelists, some fishermen themselves, addressed the film’s themes and the importance of socializing with other veterans, as well as spoke about veterans’ support on-Island.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Berube, a chaplain who spent 21 years in the Air Force and Massachusetts Air National Guard, spoke about the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life. “Whether it’s two of us or a squad or a flight or a squadron or whatever your particular branch does, it’s always ‘us,'” said Berube. “And then we finish with our military career and it goes back to ‘me.’ And that is one of the greatest challenges — is when it’s ‘me’ that it becomes difficult. And part of healing becomes regaining that community.”
Paul Schultz, who spent over a year in combat in the Vietnam War, identified with the film’s veterans. “I enjoyed the film, and it’s true. Because if you go down to Beach Road or the big bridge, the little bridge, someplace like that in the middle of the winter and you see a lone character fishing, it’s probably me,” said Schultz.
Veterans and attendees from the audience also addressed the panel, and shared their emotional experiences with the film. “It is important to recognize the sense of community that is manifested in those who serve the country,” said veteran attendee Saul Watson. “There’s no greater bond that exists that I can remember.”
The role of veterans in supporting each other was also a focus of discussion. Panelists agreed that it is difficult to process post-traumatic stress with those who haven’t served.
Berube shared the difficulty of talking about “it,” whatever an individual veteran’s experience might be. “We don’t tend to talk about ‘it’ with — no offense — you all,” said Berube to the audience. “But if you get a group of veterans together, we talk a lot. And even then we don’t talk about ‘it’ necessarily, but we talk a lot.”
“But the more we talk, the more we talk about ‘it,'” added Berube. “And it’s pretty powerful when we do.”
Retired Colonel Mark Leonard, who spent over 20 years in the army, echoed Berube’s comments. “People that haven’t served have that common experience of [a veteran telling them] ‘You can’t relate to what I went through.'”
Panelists also highlighted other beneficial therapies for veterans on-Island. Berube mentioned the benefits of equine therapy programs at Misty Meadows, which he is involved in.
Veteran Barry Meakin, who recommended ‘Mending the Line’ to the Film Center, also spoke about his difficulty obtaining supportive resources. “I had 22 years in the army, retired in ’04 — it took 16 years to get taken care of through the VA.”
Meakin also spoke about strong support for veterans on the Vineyard. “I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of places, and I haven’t seen as much outreach and caring people as I see here on this Island,” he said.
Philippe Jordi, Executive Director of the Island Housing Trust, sat onstage with the panel after the film and spoke to the audience about an ongoing veterans housing project. Jordi hopes that the project, to be sited on Bellevue Avenue in Oak Bluffs, will break ground next fall. The site will house veterans in 12 units, and provide access to veterans’ services. The center will ultimately be managed by the Cape and Islands Veterans Outreach Center.
The site will include a resource center where case managers can assist veterans as they transition from service, at which tenants will be directed to resources from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), Veterans Affairs, and other local veterans.
Jordi said that the project began because of the efforts of a local veteran. IHT was initially approached by Bob Tankard, a veteran and Veterans Outreach Worker at MVCS. The Oak Bluffs’ affordable housing committee supported the project after Tankard’s efforts.
Currently, the project is in the preliminary design stage, says Jordi. Three buildings are planned, each with four apartments. The site will also include a shared community space.
On Monday, IHT will meet with state contacts to form permit applications, made to the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. “We’re hoping that that can happen within the next six months, and if all goes well, we’ll also be applying for state funding,” said Jordi.
A key part of the ongoing project will be funding from Vineyard towns. “The funds that are raised locally…the $900,000 — is extremely important in terms of providing the match when we go out to the state and we try and secure competitive state funding,” said Jordi. “So we’ll be raising probably another $2.8 million from the state — is what we’re hoping — and then we’ve gone to all six towns and we’re trying to raise a million dollars through the Community Preservation Act. So, please come out [to your] annual town meeting and support that initiative. We’re hoping that all the towns will recommend it so the voters can vote for it.”
The full project cost is estimated at approximately $5.3 million, of which $3.8 million will be sought from state and CPA funds.
A total of $2,060 was brought in from Sunday night’s film screening, to be contributed to the housing project.