Veteran's Freedom Center: Helping Veterans Transition after Service

DUBUQUE, Iowa - Over and over again, Our Town has done right for its veterans. There are signs of this resounding commitment all over the community.

The Veteran's Freedom Center in Dubuque is one of those examples. It started in one vet's garage and is only in its its second year, but it's growing, and making its mark as it runs only on donations. No one gets paid.

The center helps veterans find themselves again and heal after service. Veteran's Center founder and President Jim Wagner, and avid volunteer and veteran Chris Saladay both suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

"One thing with PTSD is that you can have a good day and the next day is terrible and you don't even want to get out of bed," Wagner said.

"This place gives me the motivation to get up and get moving to know that I can come down here an talk with other veterans and help. Which is I used to never want to do that but it's very important for me now. It's what I live for," Saladay said."

The center started in Jim Wagner's garage, but it doesn't fit there anymore, and there is proof it's growing: 5,000 veterans walked through the center's doors last year.

"This here is kind of a unique place, veterans can come in here. They can make a wooded ink pen, our guys will show them how to make it, they can do scroll sawing, they can make bird houses, they can do anything they want or they don't have to do anything," Wagner said.

Many veterans visit the center to get their experiences off their chest and to share stories they've never shared with anyone else.

"The guys I work with, and hangout with have been in those same situations for the most part and it's easier to talk to someone who has been in that environment, Saladay said.

As far as Wagner knows this center is the only one of its kind. The VA makes several trips to the center to see how it all works and get a better idea how they are helping so many veterans improve.

"They're looking at it because it's made such a difference in so many veterans lives, and they wonder how we do it and it's pretty easy we just let them be themselves," Wagner said. "They leave smiling. I have wives call and say where are you doing down there? He is a completely turned around guy."
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