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LI veterans gather for day of healing and help at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck

U.S. Army veteran John Damato of Levittown salutes

U.S. Army veteran John Damato of Levittown salutes during Saturday's day of wellness. Credit: Observer Images / David L. Pokress

Long Island war veterans gathered Saturday in Center Moriches for a day of spiritual healing, kayaking and information-gathering on services crucial to them and their families.

From on-the-water activities and information booths on veterans’ services to acupuncture, painting and a Japanese-style healing technique called Reiki, the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project offered roughly 150 local veterans and their families help on multiple levels at its fifth annual Day of Wellness at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck.

“A lot of us assume that we’re all alone, that we have to deal with this ourselves,” said Roger King, 32, of Sag Harbor, an Iraq war veteran who served with the Marines. King suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving being shot in the head by a sniper.

Now a peer facilitator with the project, King said veterans he had met expressed gratitude that they had support.

“Having events like this, you see so many people and volunteers, it makes their day a lot easier and a lot better,” he said.

While the project focuses on assisting veterans struggling with PTSD, program director Marcelle Leis said the day’s events were also about introducing veterans to other ways to both relax and treat their stress. As an example, Leis said one veteran who went kayaking Saturday had never been in the water before.

“He only did it because he trusted the people that were around him, and it helped calm his fears,” Leis said. “We want veterans to understand that there are other alternative complementary treatments to common medical practice. We want to show them more.”

Shawn Whitaker, 35, a former E-4 specialist with the Army, passed the day catching up with friends.

“I know guys today who’ve tried (acupuncture), they liked it, so if you give it a chance, you never know,” Whitaker said. “Vets come here, they enjoy their time, and they go home with a positive attitude. That’s good.”

Harrison Kyle Jones, 63, of Amityville, who served as an electronics technician with the Navy’s Submarine Service, said that while the event — which he had been coming to for four years — was enjoyable, he particularly appreciated the information booths on services, such as pets and hearing assistance.

“Plus, it resets your connections with people,” Jones said. “If you haven’t seen someone in a while, you see them here.”

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