On veterans day I launched my new nonprofit organization whose mission is to combat negative stigma and provide health and human services information to veterans. It’s called You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services Organizations.
ou Are Strong!’s logo symbolizes the five main branches of the military: The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The logo was designed by Rich Petko.
You Are Strong! has been a labor of love for me since 2007. As its founder, I’ve been harboring this vision in secrecy, telling absolutely no one about it. The first person I told was my webmaster because I needed her to build the website, and that was in late 2011.
My direct experience with 9/11 was a life changing experience for me. Not only was my hometown New York City savagely attacked, so was my then home of almost 20 years, Washington, DC, via the Pentagon – which is how I came to land in DC to begin with. I arrived at the Pentagon in 1986 on a special assignment with the Army and left shortly after 9/11. I am a military veteran who served in the Army and the Air Force.
I routinely took the train from the Pentagon station every morning to go to work in the city. That day was no different, except that I missed that fateful plane hitting the Pentagon by minutes. When I arrived in the city, mayhem had already started. I was stuck in the city for an entire day with no way back home. An airplane was circling and no one knew for sure where it was intending to hit. Luckily for us it went to PA, not so lucky for them.
That day I watched in horror and feeling soul-sick as my beloved NYC was falling apart, those twin towers I’d grown up marveling at….and how the city I called home for years, DC, was in the midst of the most historically traumatizing event in its history. And there I was, stuck in the middle of both, watching it all unfold around me, feeling helpless and worried.
When I finally found someone that evening who was able to pick me up in his car and drive me through the state of MD just to get around the road barriers in DC, and finally back into VA to go home, I saw the destruction of the Pentagon up close and personal. A giant hole on the side of a building I’d identified with for so long. I could smell it all from my house because I only lived a few miles away. It was the single most horrifying day of my life. My family and friends could not reach me and I could not reach them. That night and for the next week or so I was running on adrenalin. Then it all hit me and I crashed. It changed me on so many levels that I will not get into here….but maybe one day I will talk about it in public.
Since then I’ve been secretly planning how I can do something worthwhile to give back to people who have, as a direct result of 9/11, given so much of themselves. You Are Strong! has been germinating inside of me as a special project near and dear to my heart for years. I finally managed to put my vision and plans into a concrete venture and You Are Strong! was born…my true labor of love so near and dear to my heart.
Veterans since 9/11 have steadily come back from either Afghanistan or Iraq with visible and invisible wounds. The love of my life is one of the first to have gone to Iraq, and I thank God every night before I go to sleep for that safe return. I was one of the lucky ones and I know that.
The damage my 9/11 experience did to me was invisible and insidious. Yet it was nothing that can compare to the visible and invisible, and equally insidious, damage that our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live with. It caught up to me and years later I finally did something about it and got the help I needed. I personally understand the vital importance of breaking out of denial and getting the help you need for invisible wounds. Now through You Are Strong! I hope to give that gift to all the veterans who need it and deserve it.
In my heart I understood this question, “How do you help others if you are still struggling to help yourself”? So that’s what I did, I got help for myself and now I have the strength and the clarity to help them.
In 2007 I was finally blessed with being able to have the love of my life safely in my world after two decades of waiting. Returning safely from Iraq was a blessing I do not take for granted. That was a turning point in my life. You Are Strong! became my private obsession and has remained so since then. I love an Iraq veteran who was able to retire safely from the armed forces, and now I want so many others in my position to have that opportunity as well.
There is still so much unnecessary and unfounded negative stigma going on about getting the mental health help that you need, especially for veterans. I am just so determined to change that and get people to see that it takes courage to get the help you need and there is no reason to feel shame or anything negative about it. Mental health is equally as important as physical health; there is no shame in seeing doctors or professionals for either. You Are Strong! is one more avenue for me to do that – to help people, especially veterans, see that.
I don’t want to change the world; I just want to help it. The love of my life does not want to change the world either, but for sure wants to protect it. Something we have both been doing on one level or another since 1984.
I founded two nonprofit organizations, The Get-Right! Organization, Inc. and You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services, Inc. Through both organizations I promote social policy that protects the wellbeing of all people, and I work for social welfare initiatives that effect positive social change through advocacy.
Through You Are Strong! I hope to combat negative stigma and shine light on the health and human services needs of veterans through advocacy, which includes podcasts and documentaries of real veterans, and empower them to find and get the help they need and deserve with dignity.
I believe that the timing is right. President Obama has declared the end of our military action in Iraq at the end of this year. You Are Strong! launches officially on Veterans Day of this year. We already have scores of veterans in need and more yet to come. This is our time to do and get what we deserve as veterans.
Veterans are one of the most important members of our society and emerging in large numbers. Yet they are the least visible. I plan to change that – You Are Strong! will be my avenue to do it!
God bless all veterans, especially the one I love who is The Dorm Chief.
Respectfully always, The Road Guard
Xiomara A. Sosa, You Are Strong! Founder, President & CEO