This Memorial Day Dear Culture speaks to a pair of veterans serving the Wounded Warrior Project about military life and the resources and support available to those in need. Internal struggles are often overlooked as veterans focus on physical injuries but Tonya Oxendine and Wilton Williamson stress that mental health care is vital to a successful recovery and productive future post-combat.
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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.
Tonya Oxendine [00:00:05] If it wasn’t for my youngest son and that little dog of mine, I’d tell you Panama wouldn’t be sitting here right now because, man, it just I mean, it just it just it really made a difference. And then for Wounded Warrior Project and coming and just say, you know what? Don’t worry about that, man. I got you. I got you. You don’t have to. We don’t care if you feel the same. We don’t care about this look like crowd doing, you know, we got you. We gonna have your back and we’re gonna hold you up, sister until it’s time for you to stand on your own two feet.
Panama Jackson [00:00:38] What’s going on, everybody? And welcome to Dear Culture. The podcast for, by and about Black culture here at theGrio Black Podcast Network. I’m your host, Panama Jackson. And today we have a show for you. We’re going to be discussing some more serious, more important, more vital topic May is Mental Health Awareness Month or maybe it’s Mental Health Month here in America. And one of the groups that for which this is essentially important are our veterans. So in the spirit of this, we have invited two individuals who are part of the Wounded Warrior Project, which I will have them explain so we can make sure we get the absolute right definition so people can understand exactly what that is. Full disclosure, I’m an Army brat. I grew up overseas in the military. Having a discuss offline lot about what that even means, where am I from, all that kind of stuff. And I think that’s a conversation a lot of us military kids have to have, especially those of us who spend the majority of our growing up life overseas. But I would like to introduce my to my two panelists today, my two guests. We’re going to start with Tanya Oxendine, who is an Army vet, did 30 years in the military, she said most of the time in Fort Bragg. And I’m going to have you introduce yourself eventually through the conversation, too, but so we can get to it. I’m going to start with the big picture stuff, and we have Will Williamson, who is a VP at the Wounded Warrior Project, who is a Marine vet. Right. Marine. Marine Corps. Right. Question Before we jump into it, do people call them Marine brats or is this military brat? Because it’s Army brat I know on our end.
Wil Williamson [00:02:13] Right now in the Marine Corps, is this military brat.
Tonya Oxendine [00:02:16] Army brat, but just mainly across the board, like Will said, military brat.
Panama Jackson [00:02:21] Got you. Got you. All right. Well, one, thank you both for being here. I appreciate your time. We appreciate your service. Just thank you for everything you’ve done for for the country in any capacity in which you have. Because, you know, serving in the military is a very selfless thing to do. You know, anybody who puts their life on the line, first responders, but in the military, all that stuff is always something we need to appreciate. So let’s you know, and I hope to get more of you all’s personal story through the conversation. But let’s start with the big picture. The big picture. Why did each of you join the military to begin with? So, Tanya, let’s start with you.
Tonya Oxendine [00:02:58] Why did that join the military? Well, for mainly one reason that we were poor as crap. We didn’t have a lot of anything. I don’t come from a military family, but my uncles were in Vietnam and that but my immediate family, it was just me, my mom and my brother. She was a single parent of both of us. I grew up in Saint Augustine, Florida, and like I said, we were, you know, poor on food stamps and welfare and sometimes electricity would be cut off and things like that. So I didn’t want to live that type of life. And one day I was just just walking to my friend’s house and saw the recruiting station and it had Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. And the Marine door was the first door, I would be a marine like Will. The Army was the first door, so I joined the Army. So that’s why I joined and that’s how I ended up joining the Army.
Panama Jackson [00:03:49] All right. Will.
Wil Williamson [00:03:51] Actually, a very similar story. So my family is originally from Jamaica. I grew up in New York, and my dad and my uncles actually got drafted in Vietnam. So my dad was a part of the Big Red one are doing that experience. So I always tell people my parents had a lot of love and not a lot of money. And like when I was graduating from high school, I was part of a summer internship program and at the end of the program, I was asking like, you know, how can I, I wanted to be a lawyer. How can I afford to go to law school, you know, and go to college to become a lawyer? And I said, well, my parents only don’t have that, you know, the kind of money to send me to law school or even a college. And then the person at the exit interview would say, well, have you ever thought about the military? And I was like, Oh, my goodness, my father is going to kill me if I join military, you know? But yeah, I ended up walking in and I knew I wasn’t going to join the army because my father just you know, he had his Vietnam experience. I knew that was not necessarily gong to be my road. And when I met the Marine Corps recruiters, who’s actually still my mentor today, still a really good friend of mine. And I joined the Marine Corps.
Panama Jackson [00:04:53] Yeah. It’s it’s so interesting that you said that last part. My father told me not to join the military. He was very adamant about that now.
Wil Williamson [00:05:01] Sure.
Panama Jackson [00:05:01] Which is interesting because, you know, so many my time in the military, so to speak, as a kid was wonderful. I love, you know, like and I come from a family of military. My mother is in the military. My uncles, aunts, my grandfather served in World War One. You know, like I have a ton of people in my family have used it similarly as a way out. Right. For so many a way to get for some of them, it was a way out. My father’s generation for cousins and other siblings, it was a way to get money for college. It was a way to get where you were trying to go. So it’s always interesting to me. My father was just so adamant about me not joining the military with that. I didn’t you know, I went to I went straight to college route, but I think it was just the the Black men in the military. Historically, those conversations, he was very much like, listen, I did all this. You don’t have to do this, which always conflict. Because again, I loved I wasn’t in the Army, but I love I love the life that it provided for me. And that’s how I always viewed the military as a provision of of safety, of space, of it sent me to live in places I would never ever be. You know, I was born in Panama at Fort Clayton. Like, I’m you know, I’m an international kid because of all of that stuff. So it’s always that’s always been one of the interesting conversations he and I have had, which is like, don’t do this thing that helped you get to exactly where you are today.
Tonya Oxendine [00:06:24] Right.
Panama Jackson [00:06:24] This wonderful life I provided for you.
Tonya Oxendine [00:06:27] Yeah.
Wil Williamson [00:06:28] That’s interesting you bring that up because I actually had a similar conversation with my father before he passed away. And it wasn’t the military was the experience when he came back from Vietnam, you know, he didn’t want that same experience for me. And thankfully, coming back home has always been welcoming and people have been totally supportive. But I think that’s what he was most most fearful of, I don’t think was the military culture itself. I think it was just the way especially Black Americans, the way they were treated once he returned back from Vietnam.
Tonya Oxendine [00:06:55] Yeah. And I and I’ll say on my end, I have two adult sons, 36 and 30. So I encouraged them to join the military and they said no way. And I encouraged them for it because, again, the life that it provided for my family and just all the, you know, different resources and things that the military provided for me. But they did not, they they chose college, which is great, you know. And then I still said, oh, you should, you know, join and there’s some different routes that you can take in the military because I and I still encourage the military to my nieces, my nephews, friends, their kids. I think it’s just a great stepping stone to, you know, whether college or military. But yeah, for your future, you know, just with all the, you know, discipline structure and that and so many opportunities, whether it’s college or and different positions that you can choose. So I push them toward the military. Either way they had to get out of my house. They had to go.
Panama Jackson [00:07:57] Which is definitely one way to get that done right. It is interesting, even after I went to college, I went to grad school for public policy and my thought was maybe I will join the military once I finished grad school. Go into OCS. You know, I’ll go that route, go that route and go into the Air Force. My father was like, If you go one way, you go to the Air Force. For some reason, that’s a common conversation I’ve heard. But 911 happens and that’s kind of a spearhead for the Wounded Warrior Project, which is why we’re here. One of the reasons we’re here today. So can somebody or can you both help me understand what is the Wounded Warrior Project and why is it so important for advocacy and resources for returning veterans, returning service members who are now veterans in our community?
Wil Williamson [00:08:45] Sure. So Tanya was talking a little bit earlier about recruiting. I saw I was actually a marine Corps recruiter during 911. And that’s right when I first learned about the Wounded Warrior Project. And I think it’s probably, in my opinion, the key MARK organization that really addresses that generation of veterans, you know, talking about veterans coming home that are either wounded, injured or ill, and just the resources in the services that this organization has. Now, initially when they started, it started as a backpack organization that would meet wounded into the world warriors bedside in hospitals. And I just mentioned to early in Panama before the show started, I was just in Germany and had a chance to witness kind of that grassroots efforts of the organization while I was in Montreal and just being able to meet warriors right when they’re coming from downrange, from the from the battlefield, any kind of injuries that they may have and really saying, hey, we’re here to support you. And this backpack had, you know, a ton of resources, that information system, the organizations that obviously grow. We’re approaching our 20th anniversary. So we’ve had lots of our resources and services since then that we’ve added on to our programing. But just to think of here’s this one organization and certainly there are several others that do similar work, but really meeting warriors where they are, and being able to provide by saying, Hey, we’re here for you. We’re here to support you. Here are the services that we have. These services come at no cost. And whether you come to us now or you come to us 20 or 30 years from now, we’re going to be here to support you through your journey.
Panama Jackson [00:10:15] Tanya, I read an article that featured you talking about essentially using services on the Wounded Warrior Project. That is a wounded warrior talk, I think was the or I hope I don’t get the name of that that particular right.
Tonya Oxendine [00:10:27] Yeah. Yeah.
Panama Jackson [00:10:28] I Googled you because I want to know who’s going to be cut. Right on. And I find this whole article about talking about, you know, how the counseling services and the the way that has helped impact your life in you know, we’re going to talk about this more because of some experience I have, like understanding the shifting demographic of the veterans that returned home in the way they utilize services because mental health is been way more utilized nowadays than it was even considered properly, even know if it was compensable for disability purposes generations ago. But, you know, please tell me a bit about your experience with the Wounded Warrior Project and you know how it’s impacted your life.
Tonya Oxendine [00:11:07] Yeah, that’s a great question because they have impacted my life. So I kind of start from the beginning and how I got affiliated with Wounded Warrior Project because it was it was nine years, like nine long years. And like I feel myself welling up now thinking about it. Well, for nine years I battle with PTSD, anxiety, severe depression, and I was on so many medications. I was prescribed antidepressants, sleep medication, pain medication, mood medication, I mean, a ton of meds. And it was a long, tough battle. But now, you know, I get to live this wonderful life because I learned to fight for my mental health in a healthy way. And part of me being able to do that is because of the impact that Wounded Warrior Project made on my life. You know, I’m retired now, and like I said, I get to live this this great life. But because of Wounded Warrior Project and the high positive effect that they had on my mental health and the variety of programs that they offer, you know, I came out of retirement and I actually work for the Wounded Warrior Project as a spokesperson. I travel the world and share my story and experiences, you know, being an advocate, advocate, so to speak, for, of course, mental health, physical health and military sexual trauma. So that and again, like Will said, you know, that’s what we do here at Wounded Warrior Project. We honor our veterans, our warriors, by treating them with dignity and respect. And we empower them to say, hey, you know, we’re going to carry you, this that logo back there that you see, we will carry you until you’re able to carry yourself. You know, to empower you, to carry yourself where you now have control over your life. And if you start feeling a certain way or whatever, like Will said, we’re going to be here with you from the beginning to the end. And all our programs are free.
Panama Jackson [00:13:00] One that is an amazing logo, by the way. I’m actually glad you have them.
Tonya Oxendine [00:13:02] I know, right?
Panama Jackson [00:13:03] It truly is like there is. Yeah. In terms of logos that actually genuinely speak to the mission of an organization like that, that really does a good job of like exhibiting what that is. And I want to talk a bit a bit about this advocacy and the information gap that exists in military between services and getting them in such that sense that it does. And I’m going to use a very personal story I was at I think I was we were in North Carolina, the Outer Banks last year, and I’m in the water, you know, playing on my kids, trying to make sure my kids don’t go in the water too long, whatever. And I meet this Black family, this Black family out there, you know, our kids are playing around. We start talking. And the gentleman is a veteran, right. And he works in Philadelphia with some organization that tries to get, you know, connect veterans with their with services. And it’s so funny. I always end up running into vets and I make sure to let them know as I look, I used to work on this specifically, right? Like I worked on the understanding what those vets with those benefits look like. But there was always like how to get everybody from from the military into the benefits that ultimately opened the door to all these things the V.A. has to offer just in general before you even get to a space like like the Wounded Warrior Project and all that. And, you know, one thing he told me, he was like, can you come speak to my guys? Because you’re telling me everything that I need them to hear, right. About what’s available between all the all the stuff for vets. So, you know, when I got to working with VA benefits, I think the for one, PTSD and mental health disorders were not that prevalent. You know, I got I started working there when heart diseases got listed to just got added to the list of presumptive is for Vietnam right but over time mental, PTSD, anxiety, military sexual trauma which was a big thing like that, was a that was a battle to get that you know, into the like into into VA in terms of being something to provide like secondary compensation for and all these things. So. But I know. But I feel like there’s like people who know or are able to go get those services. But there’s always the path to try to get people in the door. So how do you all get to the people that need the services most? Because they really need those services, right? Like being in the military can provide you some very you know, for all the for all the good things we can talk about. There are there is a lot that also comes with that you might see things that you can’t unsee. You might be a part of things you can’t forget and it impacts you. So how do you get, how do you get people in the door?
Wil Williamson [00:15:35] That’s a really great question. I mean, part of my team, which is connection, how we go out to many different facets of just trying to reach out to folks in the community. So one of the things that one of the programs that we have is called Transition Ready, for example, where we actually go in installations while folks are processing out so we can kind of share some of this information. Now, I know you didn’t serve in the military Panama, Tanya, I’m sure you can attest to this, doing that TATS program, doing that transitional program. There’s a lot of information that’s given to balance, right, with transitioning service members. So oftentimes we don’t always remember that information. But Wounded Warrior Project has a few different touch points and where we try to connect with Pulse, try to connect with them during a transition, try to connect with them post transition Odyssey through our advertising, our media, even with our connection team, we call our our service members that of transition that are part of our programing. We call them alumni. So we have our alumni team kind of be kind of force multipliers in the community by word of mouth, commercials, advertising, really just trying to getting them connected and also getting them really out of the house. Right. Because I know for me, in my own personal post-traumatic stress journey, getting connected to other warriors, other veterans that had a similar experience was very, very important to me after my transition isolated a bit because I kind of felt like anyone in the civilian construct didn’t really understand my experience.
Wil Williamson [00:16:57] So one of the things that we do here is we know that veterans got a first connect before they can start to heal, right? So what does that look like? So even when I was thinking about working here, that just that mindset, that opportunity really resonated with me and my personal journey. And so I would just answer your question and circle back. I think it’s a multitude of touchpoints, whether it be on the installations, whether folks are transitioning, whether it be through our programing, through our alumni and our connection team and also our resource center. And additionally, just the things that we’re doing out in the community and also having those alumni members be force multiplier and the community by telling those are the women and men that have served. Here’s what would a Warrior Project is doing?
Tonya Oxendine [00:17:32] Wil has really said it all and and Panama right here what you’re doing now. Right because this is going to touch, you know, thousands of people, a hundreds of thousands of people to get the word out. You know, like we’ll say it out. Marvin and I advertise it our our Spokespersons team, we have a team of 12 people on the spokesperson team, you know, motivational speaking in layman’s terms and where we go out to share our story and we bring awareness to Wounded Warrior Project of all the programs and resources that we do offer to include benefits counseling, benefits program, career counseling. He mentioned a resource center. You mentioned earlier about the Wounded Warrior TART Program, a telephonic nonclinical program. That’s what I you know, that was one of the main things that helped me out. And then to put me in contact with our warrior care network that helps with our inpatient outpatient mental health program. I mean, we have so many in our in our programs and resources. They may not one year or one year we may have twenty, the next year we may have three. Depends on what the warrior, it’s based on the needs of the warriors at that time. I mean, the PACT Act, we just, you know, was part of, you know, having the PACT Act, which is warriors that as opposed to toxic substance itself.
Panama Jackson [00:18:59] Okay. We’re going to take a real quick break here. We’re going to come back and talk more about the Wounded Warrior Project and advocacy and getting the word out and who this who, who this really impacts and how. So stay tuned here on Dear Culture. All right. We’re back here on deer culture talking the Wounded Warrior projects with Tonya Oxendine and Wil Williamson. I come from and as Wil, you pointed out, I come from an international family, you said you’re Jamaican. So I will go ahead and say it. Our community hates mental health services. If you can’t pray it away, they don’t want no parts of it usually. We are not big on therapy or if God ain’t your therapists, then get them off the line. Like we are not big on that in general. The funny thing is like the immigrant part of my family is white and they still like Nah, we’re not really about that life Like it’s it’s fine we’ll be, you’ll be fine. You’ll be okay. Not true at all, right? Completely not true. So the reason I bring this up is because mental health, I, I think, disproportionately impacts communities of color, especially Black people. Right. We don’t seek out. I don’t want to I don’t want wanna put a blanket on that. But it’s it’s more prevalent now than it used to be. The the stigma around mental health seems to be lessening especially on younger, younger people. Right. Like you see younger folks talking about self-care and therapy and all that. A lot more than I think older generations do. And the veterans bag is mixed, right? You have a lot more people leaving the service, coming into coming into VA or coming into programs that are probably more okay with that, I would assume. And you all know better than I do. But I know there’s older generations of probably still. I mean, half of them don’t even want to go to the VA because they don’t think, Look, I. I’m just fine. I don’t even need my benefits. You know, there was a when I got to working on VA stuff, there was a big fight to get people from Vietnam, even in the door. Right. Just to just to go sign up for benefits. So, you know, speaking about the Black community in particular, like why is the Wounded Warrior Project essential for like our community, especially when it comes to tending to our mental health and just ensuring our best chances for a happy, successful, you know, life that you’re in control of.
Tonya Oxendine [00:21:18] We’re there to do to to help them at the end of the day, to teach them how to deal with the stress. And just like you were saying, you know, my uncle he’s a Vietnam vet, Purple Heart, Vietnam vet, but he refuses to go get the help that he needs. And every time I go back home, St. Augustine, I’m saying, Uncle Lorenzo, you have to go in there, there to help you. You know, even, you know, I’ll go with you. So in we contacted his daughter. She’s able to push him so he can get the help that he needs, because not only does he need the help, we they deserve the help and the resources. Right? They they set the pave the way for us. Your dad, your mom. They paved the way for us. And I just think in the Black community, because of the stigma, you know, that, oh, you got to be strong. You got to stand on your own two feet. Black people don’t do that, like you said. Oh, you can pray it away. That that hasn’t helped us, you know, And if we have to continue to talk about it, I think some of the young people are getting it. Us old heads, we’re going to have to catch up, you know. Right. Because and I understand that some people may not have access to health care, but we have to continue to talk about it. We have to continue to market this and put the information out, put the word out that there are organizations like Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans Administrations, other veterans, service organizations that are there to help. And I understand that people want to be, you know, are stubborn and want to be independent. But let’s really look at that definition of independent. That means to be all alone. To do everything by yourself. Here in itself causes stress, you know, because stress is the number one. Well, you know, excessive stress, severe stress is the number one cause of mental health issues. And we’ve just got to really at the end of the day, like I deal with my uncle, you got to pick him up and almost take him down here, have somebody. Yeah, seriously, Because they deserve it and they need it. You know, I have. And then a lot of older people, they don’t have, you know, their family around them a lot. But those are the those of us that are there. And then we know when we have this information, we can’t continue to hold this information in to ourselves. We have to share it and put it out there and stop being ashamed and all of that stuff because we we say we want to help people, but are we really helping them by holding that information in? We got to get out there and help people and let these walls down because all those walls do is keep people out. We got to at the walls down.
Panama Jackson [00:23:43] Have you all noticed that? You know, what I said was basically that younger people are getting it. So that’s a younger veterans, I would assume, are availing themselves more of these. But is that actually even true? Like, is that true, Wil? Like, am I? I’m assuming that’s the case is because of society. But the military culture is different, right? It’s a different it’s a different culture entirely unto itself. Is that accurate?
Wil Williamson [00:24:05] I believe so. You know, 70% of our post 911 veterans identify as being Black. And as Tommy mentioned about her family, I have a very similar family. So my father and my three uncles weren’t even in the United States for three months before they were drafted into Vietnam. And when I started talking about my issues, yes, my dad looked at me like I had three heads and was like, You just need a man up. And you’re talking about the Jamaican, being Black, being from New York, right, and also being a Marine. So it’s all of those kind of layers. And I think what the younger generation has done has really kind of changed the narrative on it. So I’ll share with you it’s a quick personal story. So my uncle a couple of months ago was really struggling bad and he went to the VA in the Bronx. He still lives in New York and went to the Bronx VA and just didn’t feel included. And he knows that I work there and I had to have a conversation with him like, Well, look, I’m not trying to get into your business, but you have to understand that these services are here to support you, you know? And he, of course, gave me, though, the riot act about, you know, that’s for weak people and you’re a man and you’re Jamaican and blah, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, Well, let me explain you what it’s done in my life, you know? And I’ve been I’ve kind of this walked him through my experiences, right? Someone that was struggling really, really bad. And he knows my story, right? Couldn’t sleep on, you know, drinking, just does not see the world the way that I see it today.
Wil Williamson [00:25:28] And and since then, only I could have that conversation with him. Right. My cousin’s going to have that conversation. Other people couldn’t. So I think to your earlier question with Tanya about Wounded Warrior Project, had being a part of the conversation, I think Wounded Warrior Project is actually vital to the conversation, right? Because not only are we sort of, you know, all veterans, we do serve Black bears as well in that population. Right? So, you know, and not just external to the organization as well as internal. So I think as a person in leadership, my team knows that on Wednesday mornings between 7:00 and 830, Wil’s on the phone with this therapist. Right. So how do we as kind of ambassadors of a because. Right. Kind of bend and change the narrative. And I’ve had teammates say to me, wow, you’ve made, you know, mental health so much more normal, you made it easier to have a conversation about because as a person, we just have we all have a responsibility, whether you know, leadership or not. But I just try to use my platform, whether it be internal to the organization of my teammates, whether they be warriors, teammates or non-warrior teammates, but also to the to to folks outside. And Tonya, for example, she’s on our team that does a wonderful job, really going around the country, around the world, really kind of sharing those stories so that other warriors can kind of see themselves in that experience. And in my experience, I think that’s what’s really going to bend the needle.
Panama Jackson [00:26:44] You all have mentioned the story that I have. My father did not go to VA until I started working on VA issues. Right. And at that point I’m like, Dude you need to go to VA? Like, you ain’t been able to hear out of one of your ears forever. You always how much your knees are bad. Like, why don’t you just go and let them tell you no, right? Like, look, listen, go get assessed. And if they’re like, Nah, there’s nothing wrong with you, then you can keep on living that life you’ve been living and nothing changes, but you did all this time in the military. Why not? Like why not go avail yourself of these services available to you? And you know, the one way that I had to go about doing this was with my mother. Like, I’m talking to my mom nonstop, like, Ma, you have got to get this man in the door. Like, I’m telling you all with my firsthand knowledge, somebody who works intimately with all this on my daily day basis, you got to go. So what services does the Wounded Warrior Project provide to caregivers and the people who have to support the veterans through through the struggle to hopefully the better, you know, the better version of tomorrow. You know what what services are available for caregivers?
Wil Williamson [00:27:53] Really happy that you ask that question because I felt to kind of say this in the beginning, but not only do we serve the warriors, we serve their families, support members and caregivers, right? So all the services that are afforded to the warrior actually afforded to the family support members as well. And I’m not going to say anything bad about the VA. The VA has been tremendous to me, has been tremendous to my family. But what I think the Wounded Warrior does also to that conversation, to the question you asked earlier, Panama was, I think it kind of helps liaise our warriors into the VA system as well, because this organization, it doesn’t feel like the V.A., Right. It’s not a big building with 15 floors. And you kind of get the sense of bureaucracy. And it’s difficult. Right? Once the warriors registered, I think, you know, whether it be for our benefits services, like we have a team of folks here that actually help wars get their benefits right. So if a war has been never fought for a benefit or has been denied for a benefit or is looking for an increase in benefits, right. Like if you’re a warrior, an alumni teammate, you can also qualify for those benefits services. I think it feels a little different, right, working with one of our teammates in that in that particular process versus saying working with the VA, I’m not trying to suggest that everyone needs to come to Wounded Warrior Project for us to advocate for that. But I just think it just it just feels different for the warrior experience, right? Because, again, the V.A. could feel awfully huge and big and bureaucratic and everything else. But again, to circle back to your question, family support members, caregivers and warriors alike all receive all the benefits at the Wounded Warrior Project. So if I was a family support member and my active duty person was having a hard time, but I also needed someone to talk to through the talk that Tonya was describing earlier. I can to also use those services as well to be able to unpack whatever I’m going through.
Tonya Oxendine [00:29:37] And I was going to say, you know, the same thing in with the caregiver program that we have. We even have three caregivers on a warrior speak team that they go out and talk to other caregivers and other family member and family support members about how they take care of their warrior and how they have been taking care of their warrior and how that affects them. And the experiences that they have with it. And then our long term support for our independence program, for our catastrophic, really catastrophically wounded personnel. And we provide long term support for those personnel as well. And those are, you know, a lot of our warriors that need their family caregivers, you know, the caregivers, they need them with them to to help them out.
Panama Jackson [00:30:22] But we’ve been we’ve been talking a bit about we’ve used some we’re talking about VA versus, you know, a wounded warrior. And I wonder if people who listening might not even understand the purpose of veterans service organizations as a whole, because this is. This is what you all are, a veterans service organization that provides help. So one of the reason why I’m bringing this up is because what you just mentioned, like, you know, helping people go through the benefits process and that can be a very daunting process for anybody. Right. And it’s it’s less so now than when everything was 100% done, all paper back in, you know, as early as the early 2000 or at least digital now. And when you leave the military, they send your records. And they didn’t used to do that either. Right. That seamless transition process, I don’t know how seamless it is now at this point, but it’s you know, it’s a thing. So, you know, like Tonya, could you speak a bit to the the utility in the importance of veterans service organizations as a whole to ensuring that veterans get all these things that they need to begin with? Like, you know, for people who don’t understand what that even means and what we’re talking about.
Tonya Oxendine [00:31:25] Yeah. And, you know, I think veterans service organizations as a whole are there to just what he describes in his name to service the veterans, you know, just to reinforce that they’re there for them that they care to so that they can, you know, be empowered to be stronger, to have resilience and to persevere over the issues or things that they need. Right. You know, at Wounded Warrior project, not only do we offer physical health and wellness programs, we all for mental health programs. We have adventure programs, sports programs where they can do physical fitness opportunities. Wil mentioned earlier the resource center. So it’s the Veterans Services Organization, how do I say this? It fills the gap when we leave the military, with our transition assistance program. We may not get everything there. And, you know, it is kind of fill the gap in between for the Veterans Administration and other veterans service organization.
Panama Jackson [00:32:28] The Wounded Warrior Project. I mean, everything that I’ve read and everything that I was familiar with, you know, sounds like the kind of organization that if it’s available to, you need to avail yourself of opportunities within, especially for the mental health struggles without being too specific. You know,Tonya, I think you’re a perfect example of this, tell me about some of the success stories? Like people love to come back and tell you how how things have changed their lives. That’s something that I think when when you’re in the service business and one that actually impacts people in a positive way, the feedback loop is real. It exists in that space, right? So, you know, Tonya will start with you, you know, can you tell me some, you know, success stories and how it has made the community better by existing it and by providing these services?
Tonya Oxendine [00:33:15] Oh, wow. Well, you look at it. Why right now? Because, you know, after serving in after I came back, I was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. And after my deployment in Afghanistan in 2012, I just hit rock bottom. I mean, so much went on over there. We lost so many soldiers, you know, in that war during that time period. And I was a wreck. You know, all the childhood trauma hit came back. The military trauma came back at that point. And I was a mess. And like I said earlier, for nine years, I was darn near in my in my bed every day, just depressed and sick to death. And. Yeah, and I will say this, my mental fortitude had to kick in because I remember I was this is how it happened. I was at the Pentagon. It was my last duty assignment at the Pentagon in DC. And I was looking out the window and I said, you know, today is a great day to go for a swim. Now, mind you, I cannot swim right. But I knew that was a great day to go for a swim. So I told my colleagues, Hey, I’m going to go downstairs, you know, I’ll see you guys a little bit later. I need to run some errands. And so I’m driving and drive and I go downstairs and get my car and I’m driving because I was looking for a bridge to drive off because I knew that I could not. I wanted to kill myself. But I found myself at the counter Fort Belvoir mental health counter. And I said, I need help. I can’t do this. Because at the end of the day, when my mental fortitude kicked in, all I could think about on that drive and saying I was going to kill myself was my two sons, and I didn’t want to leave a legacy of suicide for them. So you know that that’s what Wounded Warrior Project has done for me, you know, And to be there and and just one thing led to another again. So Fort Belvoir knows about Wounded Warrior Project. They know about the VA. Hey, have you heard about this? Have you heard about that? Nothing is closed in it. They all want you all to ourself. They want us to heal. They want us to get better and better. So I was informed about Wounded Warrior Project. I could make the call. They all made the call. My youngest son was home with me. Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you that boy is a.
Panama Jackson [00:35:28] It’s all right.
Tonya Oxendine [00:35:29] Trooper. Yeah, I’ll tell you. He’s a trooper. I’ll tell you if it wasn’t for my youngest son and that little dog of mine. I’m a tell you, Panama, I wouldn’t be sit here right now, because, man, it just. I mean, it just. Just it really made a difference. And then for Wounded Warrior Project to come in and just say, you know what, don’t worry about nothing. Well, man, I got you. I got you. You don’t have to. We don’t care if you feel ashamed. We don’t care about this little ugly cry I’m doing. You know, we got you. We going to have your back and we got to hold you up, sister, until it’s time for you to stand on your own two feet. Not. I mean, I just. I’m just thankful for them. I’m thankful for other vessels. I’m thankful for the VA. And I know certain organizations get a bad rap, a god dard. You know this. Let’s talk about the facts of what they are doing so that people don’t have to suffer. And, you know, like I was suffering for nine years and that kind of thing. We still have people suffering. And let’s let’s just talk about the facts and the good that they’re doing so we can spread that throughout the world and throughout our veteran community because there’s so many people like yourself who’s doing this for for us veterans and for the Black community. I mean, that’s just where it starts at. We got to talk about this shit, but then also the veteran or whoever needs that help, we have to come and say, I need help because sometimes we don’t know that somebody is out there and that they need help. The only girl would cry on the darn podcasts, right?
Panama Jackson [00:36:55] I mean, I’m a host. I got to keep myself together. But your testimony is your testimony. And I think I mean, what’s more powerful than a personal testimony about something that’s.
Wil Williamson [00:37:07] Absolutely.
Panama Jackson [00:37:07] You know, because while you were talking, my first thought was like, how did you even make the get to the first step? Because when you’re stuck somewhere that’s hard to do, Like you can’t even see the step. And so, you know, you sharing that is helpful because it’s like, how do you get there to begin with? You know, and and I mean, look at your personal testimonies as good as is going to get right?
Wil Williamson [00:37:31] Tonya, thank you. I’ve heard Tonya share her story before and it always resonates with me and what she does. You know, I was just in Germany a couple of weeks ago as I was sharing with you Panama, and I just recently met a warrior there and a young, young brother. Right. And 32 years old, sergeant first class in the Army. And he was actually escorting one of his battle buddies from Poland to Longshore, while he was at the hospital. His name is Jamal. And I asked him permission if it was okay to share a story. He said it was. And while he was in Longshore he wasn’t feeling too well. He was just like, you know, I’m kind of feeling kind of woozy and is not really feeling my best. And so the nurse said, Hey, let me check your blood pressure to draw some blood. On March 30th, which is pretty recent, right? He just found out he has stage four cancer. And, you know, I’m from New York, He’s from Newark, New Jersey. I used to live in Jersey when I worked at a previous employer. So, you know, we got this connection going. He looks like me. You know, we’re just having this really in-depth conversation. And I talk to him pretty much every day. And I’m really proud of his resilience. I’m really proud of the work that Wounded Warrior Project is doing. Also, my team just kind of demonstrates some of the coordinated efforts. So kind of in Tonya’s story, he probably wouldn’t have learned about the Wounded Warrior Project if it wasn’t for the relationship that we had with the power that we currently have with the hospital and Longshore. So my team and I were up there that day. I kind of felt like I was a doctor to the hospital that day because we walked into every ward just because of this logo. We coordinated his his medevac from Longshore to Vamsi Brooke Army Medical Center. My team have a team in Texas as well. They were there to meet him once he arrived.
Wil Williamson [00:39:25] And he wrote this note to our CEO just about his experience. And he talked about where the medevac and all those other things, we’re all comfortable. Everything that Wounded Warrior Project provided for him increased his comfort level as an organization. We flew his family out, his girlfriend, his son, his two year old son. Nafair. He flew him out. We flew his girlfriend out. We put them in lodging. All this is no expense to the warrior. I don’t want to talk about resources of money at the moment, but we just wanted to make sure we had a coordinated effort that his family could be there to support him. On Sunday, I had a conversation with him because I took my daughter to brunch and he said to me, he said Wil, tell me what, you had a brunch to me about your experience. And I called him up and he said to me last, I said, Man, I’m just so glad we met before he died. And I got to be honest with you, it just it just destroyed me. And I wasn’t even quite confident I’d be ready for this conversation that because of that. And it just really put back in perspective for me why I do the work that I do and why I chose this organization. Right, Because I’m here on my story. And all voices include voices that look like me. Right and to know that our organization serves all veterans. Right. All you know, and our post 911 veterans and it’s even special that even folks that are not veterans yet, but even our active duty personnel in many instances, given a relationship that we have a large role for, the resonates with me. So this has nothing to do with me. I’m so proud of my team and how we were able to support him. And one of the things that he has said to me, which was interesting, I was actually taking a shuttle from Longshore to Frankfurt four and to catch my flight, I mentioned to one of my team members that, you know, he’s a Yankees fan and without being prompted to honor an empire, that’s all that’s part of our mantra to honor and power our warriors. Our team went out and got him a New York Yankee jersey and a fitted just to make sure that he knew that we were there to support him. So it’s still small details of someone that’s going through obviously, a very, very challenging time. But we’re not just paying attention to the needs of him. We’re also paying attention to the needs of his family, you know, and making sure that he’s comfortable. Depending on where God’s going to take him from now. Right. So I’m proud of work here. You know, this is really excited to see what we’re doing in the community.
Panama Jackson [00:41:38] And it is appreciated. And wow, that was heavy.
Wil Williamson [00:41:43] I’m sorry.
Panama Jackson [00:41:44] No, no. I mean, look, no apologies needed. I mean, as. I have a lot of fun on my podcast. We talk about all kind of, all manner of things, but you got to make space for things that also genuinely impact and genuinely in it. Just even that phrase in there. I’m glad to meet you before I died. That hit me like that. I can’t imagine being the person he’s talking to. Like that hit me right here. You know what I mean? So, you know, I’m just appreciative of that.
Wil Williamson [00:42:17] If I could just have one little last part, you know? Yeah. And it’s so important, right? Because we all have our own mental health that we’re trying to care for. And our mental, I heard a really cool term yesterday on the podcast, Mental Fitness. Right And so now I can’t I can’t carry that, right? It’s heavy. Like he just said it to me yesterday. So on Wednesday, like I told you earlier, I’ll be meeting with my therapist at 7:30 a.m. My team knows not to knock on my door, like to come to work a little bit earlier. So that is something I’m going to unpack in therapy, right? And that’s something I’m going to probably have a conversation about or I may even utilize talk, right, just so I can be able to unpack that. Because for me to carry that as a father. Right, as a son, as a person. Right. That’s just a lot of – a lot. Right. And but I did have a moment where I had to take a knee and just kind of tear up a little bit and explain to my a very inquisitive 12 year old daughter that, you know, this is what he had share with me. And and she told me, Dad, it’s going to be okay. So.
Tonya Oxendine [00:43:14] Yeah.
Panama Jackson [00:43:15] Praying for it. All right. Well, we’re going to take one final break here. We’re going to come back. I’m going to lighten the mood a little bit with our final segments here at Deer Culture, and then we’ll find out how anybody listening can find out more about the Wounded Warrior Project and where. So stay tuned here on Dear Culture. All right. We’re back here on dear culture, and we’re here with the final segments of what we like to do on my show, which are in the sense of this podcast, probably going to be a little bit more on the joyous side of things, but a way to end the show on a high note. So we do two things here. We do Blackfessions, which is a confession about your Blackness, something people will be surprised to know about you because you’re Black. I’ve heard some of the most ridiculous things ever on this podcast. Because of this, because I asked this question, I met somebody, a friend of mine, actually, and this didn’t change our friendship, but it could have who told me that she puts ketchup and mustard in her grits, and I’ve never looked at her the same way. Right. You see the faces you all are making, like, Wil I see your face right. And Tonya, you from down south, I don’t know if you eat grits or not, but that’s ain’t right.
Tonya Oxendine [00:44:17] With sugar.
Panama Jackson [00:44:19] Okay, You got to have that argument, right? So a Blackfession, do either one of you have a Blackfession for me that you can share with the people who will be listening to this podcast? Who wants to start?
Tonya Oxendine [00:44:31] I don’t know where you go.
Wil Williamson [00:44:33] I guess I could start because I’ve always so I’ve I learned African-American experience while serving in the Marine Corps, believe it or not. So I’m very Jamaican. But so for me, it’s potato salad or picnics, right? Like, I don’t understand why somebody would bring this mayonnaise filled dish. Right. And it’s 98 degrees outside and this is some kind of a cooler. And then when you open it up, it’s always like this kind of like separation of potato salad and this this substance. I don’t want to call water, but I’m like mayonnaise. And he doesn’t sound like he goes well together. So I’m not a big fan of eating potato salads at barbecues.
Panama Jackson [00:45:14] Definitely got to get there first. You got to get there early. There are no leftovers or barbecue. Potato salad, none. Okay. Thank you for sharing that. I actually understand I like potato salad, but I’m definitely with you on the where it’s served matters very, it matters a lot. All right, Tonya, what about you?
Tonya Oxendine [00:45:35] So I have two kind of. Get ready. So my Blackfession is, you know, stereotypical, maybe Black people are going to whoop they damn children. They going woop yo behind. But I didn’t spank my kids. I didn’t whoop my kids, though, and with my personality, most people think that, you know, because I’m so ah, they thought, you know, they would assume that I did so, but I didn’t whoop my son’s. And the other is when I got my puppy over nine years ago, I’ll take her to doggy day care and my Black friends like you do what? We can’t regular pay for dog on regular children daycare, you taking your dog and it’s hard to tell, you know.
Panama Jackson [00:46:21] I don’t put my hands on my kids at all. I come from a Southern family. I definitely got caught a few. Yeah. I was very intentional about the fact I was like, I’m not you’re not doing this. I was like, there got to be another way for me that that’s how I felt. Which is, yeah, it’s caused some interesting conversations in my house with my wife. Oh yeah. Definitely from from that school we like listen. But she, she funny enough she’s very much like listen because you have decided we’re not doing this. I’m going to respect this, but this is difficult. And I’m just like, listen, it’s hard for me to sometimes. Kid will test you in ways that you have never been tested. But I’m very much in the, like, try to talk it out. Yes. It’s I think my kid, my kids have way more opinions and I was never allowed to have.
Tonya Oxendine [00:47:04] Oh absolutely.
Panama Jackson [00:47:08] These kids have to think through things, right? Like so. All right. Well, thank you for those Blackfessions. We also like to add a Blackmendation here, which is a recommendation by, for and about something Black that you enjoy. Think other people need to be up on or aware. Tonya do you have a Blackmendation for me?
Tonya Oxendine [00:47:26] Well, since we were talking about that, you said we could do plug.
Panama Jackson [00:47:31] Absolutely.
Tonya Oxendine [00:47:33] So here coming very soon I will be launching my podcast mainly through YouTube and these social media platforms before I go, you know, the audio route. But my podcast is my name, Tonya Oxendine. Second opinion. And it’s about health, Black health. And it’s my goal is to rally Black women to take accountability, responsibility for our behavior and our actions in relationships with Black men and to not leave out Black men. I know there are other circumstances, but not to leave out Black men. And for us to come together in our intimate relationships long lasting long term.
Panama Jackson [00:48:15] Okay. And when did you say that’s going to be coming up.
Tonya Oxendine [00:48:19] This month of May 9th is my first. May nine is my first go to.
Panama Jackson [00:48:25] I don’t know if that was a I don’t know if you was, but this is like, oh, nobody to share that data or not just in case you got to come out a day or two later. Well, you know.
Tonya Oxendine [00:48:31] It’s coming. I got to do it. I got to go ahead and speak to the issue.
Panama Jackson [00:48:34] We’ll be looking out for that. Yeah. All right. What about you, Wll?
Wil Williamson [00:48:37] You know, for me and my mental health journey, kind of circling back to that, I think it’s important that as we’re I think sometimes as a as a Black person, right, when we’re going into certain environments, we don’t feel comfortable asking for recommendations. So if someone was going to seek out a therapist, they may not feel comfortable saying, I want a Black therapist, so I want a woman therapist, I want a male therapist. Through my journey I think it’s important to have that conversation. Six years ago, when I started on my mental health journey, I just took whatever the VA gave me to kind of just deal with that kind of military related trauma. As I’ve matured through my therapy. One of the things I do now, which I have a new therapist, is that I now have a woman and she’s a person of color. She’s she’s Puerto Rican. And I just think it’s really, really critical that we advocate for ourselves right when we go into some of those spaces. Because you’re allowed to. Right. You should feel comfortable that you can ask for what you need. Right. And what you may have needed at 30 may not be what you need at 40, Right. So, you know, feel very empowered Right back to that on an empowering piece about saying, hey, I know you’re providing this particular service, Right? Is there a potential that I can have a woman to speak to or can I have a person of color to speak to and let that organization kind of help you out to do their due diligence to get you the right fit. That’s really critical.
Tonya Oxendine [00:49:52] Can I say one thing to add to that, Panama?
Panama Jackson [00:49:55] Please.
Tonya Oxendine [00:49:55] Wil. Of course, as people told you like, oh you know this and I thought about that same way right. So I on purpose chose a white male therapist. I didn’t want to go to a Black female. We got our own stuff I didn’t want. I chose a white male therapist. And I tell you what, that was the most enlightening. He brought so much to me. He learned so much from me and vice versa. And then I want to, you know, end, by saying this, that Audre Lorde, she’s a author, Audre Lorde, a Black author. And she said, Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation. So yeah, We got to care for ourselves better.
Panama Jackson [00:50:39] All right. Well, look, thank you all both for being here. You are much appreciated. Your stories or heartwarming and vulnerable. And, you know, I got something out of this. Even got emotion out of me as a host of something where I’m typically having a lot of fun, and that means a lot. So please, Wil, can you tell people where they can find out more about the Wounded Warrior Projects if they’re interested, if they’re looking, if they don’t even know that they’re looking, how can they find out information?
Wil Williamson [00:51:08] Absolutely. So first and foremost, they can absolutely got a Wounded Warrior project dot org and they can get a whole host of information on our website. But like I mentioned, we have a resource center that actually sits right outside of my office and we have a great team out there. That telephone number is 1-888-997-2586. We’re open between nine and nine Eastern Standard Time. And those women and men that work in our resource center excellent at kind of just listening, triaging, see where to kind of direct the warrior to go. Well, we’re looking at the whole warrior experience. So whether it be the website or be calling into the resource center, those that are the two avenues to engage with us.
Panama Jackson [00:51:46] All right. Well, thank you both for being here. This this episode. Which will air during May, during Mental Health Awareness Month, will no doubt be helpful to somebody. Somebodies who needed to hear this. Who need. Who are looking for looking for something. And maybe this is what they’re looking for. So I appreciate you both innately for being here. And thank you to everybody who is listening to Dear Culture in this episode in particular. Dear Culture is an original podcast of theGrio Black Podcast Network. It is produced by Sasha Armstrong and edited by Geoff Trudeau. And Regina Griffin is our director of podcasts. My name is Panama Jackson, your host. Thank you all. Have a Black one.
Maiysha Kai [00:52:40] We started this podcast.
Ayana Gray [00:52:41] To talk about not just what Black writers write about, but how. Well, personally, it’s on my bucket list to have one of my books banned. I know that’s probably bad, but I think.
Maiysha Kai [00:52:51] Ooh, spicy.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault [00:52:52] They were yelling N-word, go home. And I was looking around for the N-word because I knew it couldn’t be me because I was the queen.
Keith Boykin [00:53:00] I am telling people to quit this mentality of identifying ourselves by our work, to start to live our lives and to redefine the whole concept of how we work and where we work and why we work in the first place.
Misty Copeland [00:53:15] My biggest strength throughout, throughout my career has been having incredible mentors and specifically Black women.
Omar Epps [00:53:21] I’ve been writing poetry since I was like eight. I’ve been reading Langston Hughes and James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and so forth and so on, since I was like a little kid.
Rhiannon Giddens [00:53:30] Like the banjo was actually Black, right? For many, many, many years everybody knew.
Sam Jay [00:53:37] Because sometimes I’m just doing some Sam that because I just want to do it.
J-Ivy [00:53:43] I’m honored to be here. Thank you for doing the work that you do. Keep shining bright. And like you said, we all keep Writing Black.
Maiysha Kai [00:53:50] As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.