Veterans First Light provides support

VALDOSTA — The first time Angie Rankin met Reg McCutcheon was during a deployment. Years later, the two happened to meet again while taking a graduate school counseling program in Illinois.

In the program, one person played the client and the other played the therapist. The program encouraged them to examine their lives and past trauma to help other people, and during one of their sessions, Rankin decided to open up to McCutcheon.

“He’s been in my shoes, as a military member,” Rankin said. “So, I allowed myself to open up to Reg and tell him my story, and from that moment on Reg has been by my side.” Unfortunately, Rankin’s story is not unique.

On her first deployment, in 2004, she was sexually assaulted. Sharing her story with McCutcheon lifted a burden she had been carrying alone for years, she said. Ever since, it’s been challenging for her to work through the trauma.

“There’s all these things you do to suppress it, and all these coping mechanisms you use to not look at it, to not examine it, to forget that it happened,” Rankin said. “Reg has been an integral part in my therapy and my self-development and growth and introspection on what has happened and how the military functions and how it should be, what I should be provided, the protection I should have been given. I always felt like I couldn’t trust people.”

Now, 13 years after her traumatic experience, she said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma and is being evaluated for medical discharge for what happened to her while in the military.

The military, however, has been less than accommodating for Rankin, she said.A lot of the time she feels like she is flailing. This is where McCutcheon and Bryan Roy with Veterans First Light comes in. VFL is a newly formed non-profit organization that partners with veterans and their families for advocacy and support. McCutcheon retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. While in the military, he cultivated relationships he now utilizes to help veterans thrive and prosper, he said. “I try to build relationships that matter,” McCutcheon said. “With those relationships, I can help people get places where they might not otherwise have been able to get to.” Roy, who was enlisted for eight years in the Air Force, met McCutcheon during a tour in Afghanistan.

He found his way to Valdosta and worked at Crosspointe Church for seven years as a pastor. Most of his responsibilities revolved around counseling and coaching veterans. “For the past two years, I’ve been working out what Veterans First Light was going to be, and I wanted to take that first step because I knew there is a great need in our community,” Roy said. Roy happened to meet McCutcheon again in fall 2016 at a training meeting at South Georgia Medical Center, where they are volunteer chaplains. Roy spoke to McCutcheon about his plan to provide advocacy for veterans. “What I learned after that is that he was working on the same thing for several years,” Roy said. “We really had the same passion and the same vision from two different perspectives.”

VFL is putting together the funding for operation space in the Greenleaf Behavioral Health Hospital, 1700 Park Ave. The two men are still in the pre-launch phase until Sept. 1, when they will officially open. For this phase, VFL needs $88,000, but it will need $200,000 to be fully funded for the year. The money will go toward the space and supplies and providing opportunities and support for veterans across the country.

McCutcheon said when a veteran comes back from a tour or leaves the military, he or she can suffer from a number of issues, whether mentally, physically or just not knowing enough about how the system operates. “We want to be their advocate,” McCutcheon said. “We have resources that they might not otherwise have, and if we don’t have an answer, we know where to go to get that answer.

We won’t stop until we get that person to where they need to be.” Rankin is proof of the dedication and support that McCutcheon and Roy can provide. Without McCutcheon she said she would still be flailing. She said she spent years stuck in a limbo, waiting for the military to do what is right by her. “I would still be struggling. I would still be compressing all this down, and I would be doing it with unhealthy coping mechanisms had it not been for meeting Reg,” Rankin said. “People leave you hanging. They drop the ball. (Veterans First Light) picks up the ball where everyone else drops it.”

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256 article_1e1af3bd-1f83-5f48-a333-8c69f6e3033e.html

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