Veterans seek unity at Dubuque center - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Veterans seek unity at Dubuque center

A group hanging out at the Veterans Freedom Center Wednesday afternoon A group hanging out at the Veterans Freedom Center Wednesday afternoon

A new and unique center in Dubuque has its doors wide open for any veteran in the tri-states area. It's called the Veterans Freedom Center, and it's gaining popularity.

Opened in the spring of 2011, the goal of the center is to create an environment in which veterans can hang out, be themselves and maybe share some experiences with a fellow vet.

Tools and craft kits allow vets to use their hands and become occupied with a task, taking their minds off of any problems they may be having.

Active duty service members who need to use the center may do so, too, center co-founder Jim Wagner said.

Steve Vincent has been in the Army for about 30 years and was at the center Wednesday, painting sculptures.

"I'm doing the best I can off a picture," Vincent said, holding up two Sesame Street characters he had been painting.

The craft is a hands-on task that allows him to focus his mind.

"My brain goes, like, 800 miles a minute," he said.

While serving in Iraq in 2003, "I got blown off my tanker. I hit my head on another tanker, hit the ground, Vincent said.

That left him with a traumatic brain injury, plus a long list of other problems.

"And this is the first time that I've been out of my house and did something with other soldiers," Vincent said. "Even though they're Vietnam or whatever, as far as I'm concerned, we're all brothers, and we have to stick together, and I feel like I'm at home here."

"A lot of times, veterans need a place where they can go and not worry about what they say or what people are thinking," Wagner said.

Wagner, a Vietnam War vet, co-founded the center after a group of his friends started hanging out at his nearby shop.

"We all got together and decided, 'Let's get a veterans center going,'" Wagner said.

The center may be the only one like it in the country, he said. It has no affiliation to a larger group, such as an American Legion or VFW. It gets no government funding and has no paid employees.

"I got a lot of the veterans that say, 'When I walk in the door, I just go, "whew!"' You know, they're just relaxed here," Wagner said.

There's no cost to the veterans. It's a free resource to kick back, relax and maybe even help lessen some trauma.

"I can't explain how angry I am when I go home. I'm two different people," Vincent said. "Here, I can be myself. I can tell them what I did in Iraq or they can tell me what they did in Vietnam, and I can understand it. I can understand how they talk."

Wagner said the center sees about 30 vets per day. It's at 1897 Washington Street in Dubuque. The center is always happy to accept donations. You can also visit their website.

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