Pa. COs serve meal, donate clothes to veterans

Two dozen DOC employees cooked and served a hot meal to about 40 local veterans, in addition to donating clothes, food and toiletries

By Mike Urban
Reading Eagle

Reading, Pa. — Last month, Marine Corps veteran Doug Graybill spoke with leaders of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and its 15 state prisons about the troubles he faced during and after his tour in Vietnam, trying to help them better understand the difficulties of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Graybill, who suffers from PTSD, found himself homeless, arrested and using drugs after the war.

He turned his life around, in part by giving back to other Berks County veterans through his organization, Veterans Making a Difference.

Graybill's message got through to those corrections officials, who said it will help them to better serve the many veterans who work for the Department of Corrections or are incarcerated in state prisons and dealing with PTSD.

"When Doug spoke, you could have heard a pin drop," said Ryan Yoder, statewide veterans coordinator for the DOC.

"It was inspiring," agreed state corrections Secretary John Wetzel, who earlier in his career worked as a corrections officer at Berks County Prison.

The leaders were so moved by Graybill that they wanted to give back to him, his wife, Liz, and the veterans the couple work to help each day.

So on Tuesday, about two dozen DOC employees, including Wetzel and Yoder, cooked and served a hot meal to about 40 local veterans at the Paul R. Gordon Veteran Social Center on North Sixth Street in Reading, a facility run by the Graybills.

They also brought a moving truck carrying clothes, food and toiletries for veterans in need who visit the social center, all donated by DOC staff.

"We appreciate all you do here, from the bottom of our hearts," Yoder told the Graybills, who live in West Lawn.

A Marine veteran himself, Yoder said more than half of the department's employees are veterans, and more than 3,000 state prison inmates in Pennsylvania are also verified as veterans, although there are probably hundreds of others who served.

There are programs in place for those inmates, Wetzel said, such as veterans housing units and a veterans re-entry program.

But he added the department is always looking to do more, and Doug Graybill's message will help with that.

Yoder said department officials also want to support their employees who served, so hearing Graybill's firsthand account of a veteran's struggles will help them do so.

Among those enjoying the grilled burgers and hot dogs Tuesday were Daniel Kelly Sr., 54, of Reading; Les Jones, 65, of Wyomissing; and Ted Stewart, 83, also of Reading, all veterans who visit the center daily.

They said it was kind of DOC employees to provide them with lunch and mentioned other local groups of volunteers who do likewise, including churches and businesses.

"They don't do it because they have to," Kelly said. "They do it because they have open hearts, and they're thanking us for our service."

Years ago when inmates walked out of prison, many had no support and no plan, leaving them homeless, Doug Graybill said.

"When they went to prison, they lost their job, they lost their wife and they lost their home," he said. "What's left?"

Therefore, Graybill is glad that the prison system is working toward getting inmates better prepared for life after release.

Wetzel is glad members of the local veterans community have people like the Graybills in their corner, he said.

"We are just blown away by what they do," he said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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