Army Veteran Whatitis Simpson is packing his bags and preparing to return to his home after spending 145 days at the Bonham Domiciliary, part of VA North Texas Health Care System’s Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center.

But before departing, Simpson is leaving his mark.

Simpson is in one of the first groups of Veterans to leave a message on the Legacy Tree, part of a new project called Leave a Legacy. The project was created by a couple of staff members at the domiciliary. The legacy tree is painted on two walls inside the domiciliary.

After Veterans have completed treatment and before they leave the domiciliary, they are encouraged to leave a message on a leaf as a positive affirmation statement for others coming after them.

“It’s sort of like your mantra, whatever it is you have heard that is going to get you through or has helped you change and pushed you to that next level,” said Alicia Wright, Chief of the Bonham Domiciliary and U.S. Air Force Veteran.

Pictured above, peer support specialist and Army Veteran Christina Meek talks with Army Veteran Whatitis Simpson in front of the Legacy Tree.

“That’s what we are hoping they leave behind.”

The Bonham domiciliary is a 192-bed rehabilitation center that primarily treats Veterans with substance use issues and PTSD.

Army Veteran Jennifer Knieper (left) and Peer Support Specialist and Army Veteran Christina Meek look at writings left by Veterans on the Legacy Tree.

“Our goal is to send them back out to the world better than they came to us,” Meek said. “That looks a lot of different ways. They come to us with a lot of issues associated with mental health and substance issues. It takes a village for us to make this happen every day.”

Meek has done many legacy projects while working at the domiciliary but wanted to do something big. After brainstorming with Wright, they came up with the Leave a Legacy.

“It was a dream for a couple of years,” she said. “We talked about it and how could we make it work. We finally decided ok, let just do this.”

Meek had Veterans and staff members paint the mural to get the project moving forward. In July, she had her first group of Veterans leave their mark and about 20 Veterans have since added to the wall.

“You can’t go straight on a road that curves.”

Simpson left words on a leaf that he came across several years ago that have helped him through tough times and could benefit somebody else.

“I wrote, ‘You can’t go straight on a road that curves. You will fall off every time,’” said Simpson. “You have to be adjustable to things that come your way and be able to turn and be able to adapt.”

Another message is from Army Desert Storm Veteran, Jennifer Knieper.

“You go where you look,” she said, from a helpful message she found years ago in a book.

“If you are looking down or if you are looking towards alcohol or towards drugs, that’s where you are going to go. But, if you are looking forward to your life and it’s a better life, that’s where you are going to be. It has to get better.”

Jennifer Roy is a public affairs specialist for the VA North Texas Health Care System.

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Published on Oct. 18, 2020

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