BRISTOL, Vt. – For many veterans, finding a place in their community upon returning from service can be a difficult journey.

Jon Turner served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2007. In that time, he was deployed to Haiti, and twice to Iraq. Upon returning home, he began to notice a need for helping veterans transition out of combat.

“We have veterans who are surviving injuries that in previous conflicts, they would’ve been killed in action by,” Turner said. “So there’s a lot more – I don’t want to say psychological trauma – but there’s a lot more burden and grief that comes from that.”

One of the ways in which Turner makes his impact with a microphone, taking the stage at Veterans Town Hall events across Vermont.

For four years, he’s offered audiences a glimpse into his own struggles and strategies, and it’s helped others open up.

“That’s kind of almost giving permission for other veterans who may have been holding on to a memory, a thought or an experience to discuss it more openly and be okay doing so,” Turner said. “Every town hall we’ve had, after we get through the registered speakers, we’ve had double the amount of unregistered speakers get up to tell their story.”

Turner said speaking out and finding a comfortable environment are important steps, and he knows all too well what its like without that.

“I said early on that I didn’t want to become a statistic, I didn’t want to be a vet who took their own lives, I didn’t want to be a vet who was dependent on pills and homeless, the unfortunate part is I’ve kind of been in all three of those categories,” Turner said.

Early in Turner’s transition, he said art helped him give voice to the thoughts and emotions he’d tried too long to suppress. These days, a lot of his time is spent at his farm and nature, which he called one of his greatest teachers.

He’s also a bit of a teacher himself – in February, Wren’s Nest Preschool in Bristol moved to a classroom on Wild Roots Farm.

“It’s really incredible to watch these kids just kind of run around and look at the systems over the last six years I’ve worked to build here and engage with them, and that for me has great meaning and purpose,” Turner said. “I hope that, uniquely to the individual, they can find meaning and purpose in their lives as well that will help them push forward.”

For more information on Vermont Vets Town Hall events, visit the official website. Veterans of any era who served in any capacity are invited to stand before their community and speak for up to ten minutes about what it was like to serve their country. Non-veterans are encouraged to attend and listen. These events are non-political, and all perspectives are valued.