About 20 percent of soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and veterans made up about 18 percent of all suicide deaths among U.S. adults in 2014.
These alarming statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have prompted calls to action for fellow veterans, soldiers and organizations who want to assist them, including Jefferson City resident Ashly Cox.
A U.S. Army veteran and current Missouri National Guard member, Cox was deployed in 2013 and 2014 to Afghanistan while with the Guard. She set her sights high and completed her masters degree after returning home. With marketing and graphic design among her many job duties with the military, she also teaches health and fitness. However, she has seen how alternative methods can help veterans and soldiers with PTSD and depression.
“I have friends with PTSD, and some don’t make it past that. Veteran suicide is a huge issue,” she said. “In seeing people struggle when they come home from deployment, they may turn to alcohol or prescription medications. They don’t prescribe you a vacation, natural medicines or yoga, which all can really help veterans.”
Personally using yoga as a stress relief, Cox decided to implement a Yoga 4 Vets event with the backing of Combat Boots & High Heels, a mid-Missouri based nonprofit organization comprised of veterans supporting veterans in which she is a member and advocate. From 1-4 p.m. Saturday, April 29 on the south Capitol lawn, Yoga 4 Vets is open for veterans, military supporters and everyone of all skill levels who love yoga.
“It doesn’t matter if three or 300 people show; I hope this opens up the door to a holistic approach to health and ties in the community to support PTSD and veterans,” Cox said.
Combat Boots & High Heels is pairing up with one of Cox’s close friends, Mandy McAmis of Elation Odyssey Yoga in Wentzville, Missouri, will lead 30-minute sessions with live music at the free event, with participant registration required. Cox said McAmis understands how yoga can provide stress relief, and has some speciality training for prenatal and youth in trauma health care.
“She really wants to do this and is offering it free of charge,” Cox said. “I hope this opens up not only a new veteran population for her, but encourages more veterans to look at doing yoga.”
Some holistic vendors will also be on site at Yoga 4 Vets, offering snacks and services to guests. Even though the event is free with registration, donations are also encouraged to help veterans through Combat Boots & High Heels. The first 60 participants who make a donation will receive free yoga mats and T-shirts, depending on donation selection.
Those monetary contributions and proceeds raised at the event will benefit area veterans in need, which is is a main focus for Combat Boots & High Heels.
The primarily female veteran nonprofit organization strongly advocates in battling the negative effects present in today’s veteran community, such as depression, suicide, homelessness, unemployment and poverty. They look for opportunities to assist local veterans regardless of the size of their need.
“A veteran may not be able to pay their mortgage or has experienced a fire. Maybe the husband is deployed and the family van has flat tires, or a veteran needs to get to work on time and needs a ride. If there is a way we can make a veteran’s life easier, even when they are dealing with cancer, trauma, paralyzation … we help,” Cox said. “If a soldier or veteran needs something and may think it is too small, it is not too small for us. That is where our fundraising comes in.”
The organization contributes to community activities and hosts five to six events annually. The annual Combat Boots & High Heels 5.56K, held April 23 this year in Columbia, raised $1,500 for a veteran in need and a van for another veteran. Ripcords and Rifles is an annual event bringing service members and veterans together while raising money and awareness for veterans.
The organization organizes events across the state, gaining support from communities in which the veterans reside. For example, the organization is hosting Swing Into Action for Veterans from noon to 7 p.m. May 20 at Shamrock Hills Golf Club in Lees Summit, Missouri.
“The whole collaboration helps camaraderie,” Cox said. “We are like a second family. You come home from deployment. … your (personal and professional) life may be affected; you miss that camaraderie. This organization gives you that sense of belonging and community, letting everyone know that veterans are people, too.”
Combat Boots & High Heels also doubles their efforts for female mentorship, and has recently joined forces with Baby Box University to promote the Baby Box Initiative. Inspired by the maternity packages that the Finnish government sends to all expectant mothers, the Baby Box is a new baby starter kit provided to all expectant mothers, the Baby Box is a new baby starter kit provided to expecting mothers in the United States. Combat Boots & High Heels encourages both female service members and spouses of soldiers to register, watch a video and complete a quiz in order to receive a Baby Box, which includes a custom mattress with fitted sheet that serves as a bassinet and health care, parent and baby essentials.
“As women, we may have been through experiences that other soldiers haven’t to help mentor young soldiers. … If a soldier’s wife is pregnant or a female soldier is pregnant, providing extra resources for them is very important,” Cox said. “(The organization) is not just about financial assistance; it is about education. … Hopefully this helps promote and reduce infant mortality.”
Cox is encourages everyone to get involved in the upcoming Yoga 4 Vets event and support veterans through involvement in Combat Boots & High Heels.
“We share information, we tell stories. … We encourage anyone to get involved that wants to help veterans and service members,” she said.
For more information or to register for Yoga 4 Vets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/yoga4vets-tickets-32521412420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Combat Boots & High Heels, visit www.combatbootsandhighheels.org or their Facebook page.