Book brings veteran’s stories to life

‘Reveille in Hot Springs’ an emotional journey for Mary Ellen Goulet
By Curt Nettinga, Hot Springs Star

HOT SPRINGS – There were times, during all of the interviews, writing, re-writing and follow-up interviews when the work that would become “Reveille in Hot Springs” just got to be too much for author Mary Ellen Goulet.

“There were times that I just had to get away from all of the incredibly personal stories that I was being allowed to hear,” Goulet said recently about her book. “It was such an emotional trip for me, as it was for the veterans who told their stories.”

Goulet will be signing copies of her latest book, subtitled “The Battle to Save Our VA,” on Wednesday, Sept. 11, as part of the Patriot’s Day events planned at the Hot Springs American Legion. “Reveille in Hot Springs” is available at Black Hills Books and Treasures in Hot Springs.
Also in attendance and signing their individual chapters will be the same veterans whose stories in the book relate their coming to know the Hot Springs VA and shines a light on the treatment they have received at the facility.

“I got started around Christmastime in 2011,” Goulet recalls. “Diane (Gross, owner of Black Hills Books and Treasures) suggested that I do some interviews of veterans and get their stories.” Goulet said that at the start, the plan was to highlight the need to retain the Hot Springs VA and to assist the grass-roots Save the VA effort.

“It was right after they dropped the bomb about closing the VA,” Goulet added. “The Save the VA was just forming and I really wanted to do something to help; to contribute and get involved.”
Goulet began contacting veterans and found many who were willing, at least to begin with, to share their stories of the journey that took them from the battlefield to eventually seek treatment at the Hot Springs facility. Many of the stories relate how one veteran heard from another about the quality of the people and the treatment that could be found in Hot Springs.

She learned about things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it may lurk for years, causing problems for a veterans who served in a combat zone, without he or she being aware of the what is amiss.

“Viet Nam veterans – I learned a lot from them,” Goulet said. “I learned that it (PTSD) gets worse and that you never get over it. You are always in recovery.” Goulet notes the similarity to drug and alcohol abuse, which is a self-medicating avenue that many PTSD sufferers turn to, increasing their problems and often causing additional problems at work and in their family environment.
“Getting treatment is key and that is why it is so important that this wonderful facility not only remain open but be returned to what it once was, before they tore it apart.”

Goulet said that each interview was unique, as each veteran had a different story to tell. As it became known that she was collecting stories, many times veterans traveling to or from the VA would stop at her Fifth Street home and just knock on the door. She remembers one veteran as saying, “I want to save this VA.”

Several veterans spoke once, but never came back to follow-up or add to a primary interview. Goulet said she believes about 60 percent of her initial contacts ended up in the book.
And while she was taking down their stories, many different avenues of information were opened. “I learned a lot of different things – things I never knew before – from the veterans,” Goulet said. “And that includes things about veterans in my own family.”

She said many of the veterans told her that telling their stories was cathartic. Often spouses shared that they had never heard some of the things that Goulet was being told. “Talking bothered some more than others,” she said, “but I truly believe that discussing what they did is only the tip of the iceberg for many of them.”

The community effort to Save the VA is similar, in some ways, to how the city came together in the wake of the Alabaugh Fire, Goulet said. “We have the ability to set aside problems and come together for the sake of the issue at hand.”

From her perspective, the fight to Save the VA is in some ways a fight to save Hot Springs. “I am first and foremost angry and upset at how veterans are being treated,” Goulet said, “by the organization that is intended to provide their care. But at the same time, if the VA goes it will affect this community. It is a vital part of our community and the ripple effects will continue if it goes away.”

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