By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Although London and Laurel County is considered a progressive area in southeastern Kentucky, there remains a few services not previously provided.
One of those needs was recognized by a local man, who has launched a venture to assist area military veterans and their families.
GPS - Getting Peace for those who Served - is an outreach for veterans and their families. The office for GPS is located at 60 Bennett Circle and will celebrate its grand opening on Tuesday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m. with an open house for the public.
GPS came about as a vision by Mike Seals. Seals, pastor at Sinking Creek Baptist Church in western Laurel County, who said he had a burden to help veterans and their families. Hearing statistics about the high number of suicides by veterans and their children laid heavy on Seals’ heart.
“I started doing research on this in October,” Seals said. “Statistics show that 25 percent of veterans’ children are committing suicide. I watched the CBS Morning News on Sunday that gave those statistics and it amazed me. Especially when they said the suicide rate for non-veteran families is only 19 percent.”
That 25 percent suicide rate of the children of veterans, coupled with statistics that approximately 22 veterans end their own life each day, is disturbing to Seals.
His research revealed that counseling centers for veterans are few and far between in this area. In fact, aside from the Veterans Administration hospital in Lexington, the closest counseling center is located in Louisville.
“There aren’t many places that veterans — or their families — can go for counseling,” Seals said. “But as the research continued, it was like God was placing people in my path to start one here.”
The GPS center will offer counseling to families, as well as information about veteran benefits, job placement and financial counseling. The services will be free to those participating. Group sessions of 12 people or less is what Seals and his team are striving for, with more than one group convening at a time.
“Our military people see a lot of things and they are drilled not to talk about them,” Seals said. “It’s difficult for them to talk about what they’ve seen. On the other hand, it’s difficult for the family members of veterans to deal with everything they go through. The one left behind, usually the wife, has to take care of the kids and the daily responsibilities while the man is away. Even if the family can go where the person is stationed, someone has to take care of the everyday things while the other person is doing their job for their country.”
Sometimes talking with someone can ease the stress or the memories that may weigh heavily on the minds of those who served.
“Is this needed? Yes, it’s needed,” Seals said. “Our veterans and their families deal with a lot. Our motto is “'Getting our heroes back on track,' and that’s what we want to offer.”
Joining Seals in this venture is Joe Rednour, a combat veteran who can related first-hand with those military personnel who sometimes bury the horror of war and combat. Rednour will serve as a counselor at the GPS center. With Seals as president, Keith Lakes will serve as vice president. Summer Lewis, who also works as a counselor in the Laurel County School System, will serve as secretary, and Sheena Robinson, who is pursuing her degree in counseling while she also works with the UNITE program, will serve as treasurer.
Like other non-profit organizations, Seals is also seeking funding for the venture that he feels is a dire need in this area.
“I’m not a veteran,” he said. “But the last few years, especially, whenever I hear fireworks or The Star Spangled Banner, it brings me to tears. When I think about how much our veterans have given up — and how their families have struggled — it inspires me to do something to help them.”
For more information about GPS and how you can help, contact Seals at (606) 215-1417.