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NEWS | Aug. 25, 2022

Empowering Veterans using Michigan’s great outdoors

By Master Sgt. Helen Miller Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

As a Veteran, conversations with civilians can sometimes be difficult. Often, civilians may not understand the terminology, the military acronyms or the mission-oriented nature of life in the armed services. In contrast, the same conversation with a Veteran changes the whole dynamic. The conversation is more meaningful and beneficial to each Veteran, mainly because each person understands. They “get it”, because they have been in the other person’s boots and understand what they are going through.

Many Veterans struggle with readjustment and reintegration into society, either when coming back from a deployment, returning from a tour of duty, or just retiring at the end of their military career. U.S. Army Capt. Nathanael Cropsey, a Michigan National Guard chaplain, spends off-duty time as a volunteer working to help address and treat the unique challenges Veterans face through Zero Day Supportive Services, a Michigan-based organization that provides counseling, assessment and support services for those who have served our country in uniform.

Bringing Veterans together in unique ways, as a complement to simply going to a counselor’s office, is the ultimate goal. Cropsey and Zero Day use outdoor and interactive group settings that engage conversation with other Veterans and Zero Day support personnel. Zero Day’s goal is to help Veterans make decisions and take decisive action into family issues, making career decisions or just reintegrating back into society.

“A lot of times when you return from a deployment or leave the service, that community you were involved with can get very dispersed. The type of events we are doing give the Veteran a chance to rebuild that community and meet other Veterans who are local to them,” said Cropsey.

Zero Day has many Veteran resources to include counseling for marital and family resiliency, depression disorders, PTSD, career counseling and helping to ensure Veterans have the greatest opportunity to become "well," both physically and emotionally, before they are confronted with the stress and pressure of entering an academic or work environment. But as more members joined the organization, the immense appreciation for outdoor recreation became apparent. In response, more focus is now aimed at less traditional methods of communication and counseling for Veterans.

“Encouraging veterans and military families to engage in group-based outdoor recreation can lead to reduced anxiety and a positive impact on their quality of life,” said Zaneta Adams, director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. “We hope that by adopting these activities, it leads to greater social connection, a strengthened community and eases veterans’ transition to civilian life.”

Using the natural resources of Michigan, events like hunting, fishing, archery, camping, biking and firearms competitions are being used to bring Veterans together for fellowship, growth, and healthy living. This provides unique relationships, education, and recreational opportunities to Veterans.

Throughout the process of getting to know and working with Zero Day members, Veterans receive individualized supportive services that can help lead to personal success, dignity, and a sense of purpose. “Relationships flourish, camaraderie is built, and opportunities open up,” said Cropsey. “It’s all about empowering Veterans, helping them be successful in reintegration and transition into civilian life.”