BINGHAMTON, NY – In the weeks leading up to Veterans Day, NewsChannel 34 is hearing directly from some of the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces.
Our Jim Ehmke begins our Veteran Voices series with a former Marine who uses her own experiences to get her fellow veterans the help that they need.
Cara Tilton is a Veterans Outreach Program Specialist with the Binghamton Vet Center. Her job is to find those veterans who are struggling to readjust to civilian life after seeing first-hand the horrors of war.
Tilton herself has PTSD from her deployment to Iraq.
“It’s not easy. Thankfully, I got to a place where I was able to work with people like me. To help people like me,” says Tilton.
Tilton joined the Marines in March 2001, 6 months before September 11th.
By early 2004, she was stationed at Al Asad air base in Western Iraq.
Over the course of 7 months, the base was struck by rocket attacks on multiple occasions, including one where Tilton was mistakenly told that a close friend had died.
“When I found out he wasn’t, it was a good thing but it was still the fact that it was still someone close to him, standing next to him, had died that time,” says Tilton.
After leaving Iraq, Tilton returned to her hometown of New Orleans, just in time for Hurricane Katrina which ravaged her family’s neighborhood.
She remained in the Marines until physical injuries forced her to retire in 2010. After following her ex-husband to Upstate New York, she sought counseling for her post-traumatic stress disorder at a vet center in Middletown.
And in 2014, she took the job at the Binghamton Vet Center, traveling to veterans fairs, Legion and VFW posts and community events to spread the word that help is available.
“Pop a tent up somewhere and I’m just smiling and getting people in there and just bring them over with my charisma,” says Tilton.
The Vet Center has 4 licensed clinicians that counsel combat veterans on issues such as PTSD, sexual assault and bereavement.
While Tilton herself is not a counselor, she works to be a bridge between her fellow veterans and the help they need.
“Although I may not understand exactly what they went through specifically, we still have a bond and an understanding. Where I’m able to just reach out and be that friendly veteran face to talk to,” says Tilton.
Tilton has worked to introduce crochet and tai chi to her fellow veterans as a way to relieve stress.
She’s Vice President of the Southern Tier Veterans Support Group and a member of the BC Suicide Awareness For Everyone Coalition.
But the 7 years of outreach have come at a price.
“You see this but that’s my here-to-help-you face. But it’s also ‘Wow, whoo’ when I get home. But luckily I have wonderful people here who are like my New York family who watch out for me,” says Tilton.
Nevertheless, Tilton has come to the understanding that it’s time to focus on self-care.
She plans to enter a 2 week intensive outpatient counseling program at the end of the month. She says it’s time to pull back and focus inward.
“I don’t feel that I’ve done all that I can. But I know there are other avenues that I can do it in without sacrificing too much of myself anymore,” says Tilton.
As one chapter closes, Tilton looks forward to a new chapter that will still involve assisting fellow veterans in some manner.
She says her work with the Binghamton Vet Center has been the best thing she’s ever done in her life.
A half hour Veteran Voices special, with Tilton’s story and others, will air locally on WIVT
NewsChannel 34 on Sunday Noovember 8th at 1 P-M and Wednesday November 11th, which is Veterans Day, at 5 P-M.