BELVIDERE - In America, the suicide rate among military veterans is high, with an estimated 20 taking their own lives each day. The Veterans Assistance Commission in Boone County is out to help in any way that it can.
An assembly line of sorts unfolded at the Veteran's Assistance Commission (VAC) in Boone County on Thursday, when the Belvidere Police Department dropped off boxes of canned goods to help those local men and women who served our country.
Only weeks earlier, It was local-area vet Luther Rowlett who received a food basket.
"I just about cried," said Rowlett, a Vietnam War Veteran. "It meant a lot to me."
Rowlett, who served in the Navy, admits he hasn't always known how to ask for help.
"I was always ashamed to reach out, so I held it inside," said Rowlett.
Until Rowlett met Bob Ryder, who is the superintendent of the VAC.
"I had only planned to stay ten minutes and I probably spent an hour with him," laughed Rowlett.
Now, the two talk on a regular basis in Bob's Belvidere office.
"When you give them the respect and dignity that all veterans deserve, that's a really privilege and I feel very lucky to be able to do that with those guys."
Bob knows what they need because he is a veteran himself. Medals and pictures, hanging on Bob's office wall, highlight years of service in the United States Marine Corps. Bob was a combat corespondent overseas during Operation Desert Storm. He used all forms of journalism to keep troops informed.
"I was no war hero. I was glad to go over and do my part. I felt good about what I did, but I was glad to come home when it was time," explained Bob.
When Bob came home, he pushed forward with his passion for broadcasting. He eventually ended up in Rockford.
"I didn't know a soul when I came up here," said Bob. "I didn't have any connections to any of the TV stations so I just started knocking on doors. Nobody was hiring, so I said, 'I'll work for free.'"
A part time gig at WTVO opened up and eventually led to full time on-air opportunities. Bob spent nearly two decades in TV before health and family pulled him in a different direction.
Bob spotted an opening for the superintendent position at the Veteran's Assistance Commission, and got the job.
"Without that tiny little ad, I wouldn't be here today," said Bob with a smile. And Luther admits that with his PTSD, he might not be either.
"That's why people die," explained Luther. "Because they don't get the help they need."
The Veterans Assistance Commission offers all kinds of services to Boone County veterans, including financial assistance and navigating the bureaucracy of the V.A. But help also comes through candid conversations which finally gave Luther the feeling of belonging that he lacked all these years.
"You fit in here?" asked Christie Nicks, Eyewitness News.
"Absolutely, yes I do," said Luther confidently.
"Make the time to really sit down and listen to [veterans] and hear their stories and just treat them with respect and understanding," said Bob. "That alone can make a tremendous difference."
For more information on the Boone County VAC and to find out about any of its upcoming events, click here.
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