In the span of 15 months, two Roaring Fork Valley veterans have succumbed to mental and physical injuries sustained while fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a child, Jesse Beckius enjoyed catching frogs and driving tractors with his grandfather and playing soccer with friends. he would later successfully obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. In 2005, after graduating from Glenwood Springs High School, he joined the United States Marine Corps before being deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2009 as a member of a sniper team and optical technician. He then spent more than a year as an electronics technician in Afghanistan.
Beckius lost his battle with PTSD on July 29, 2013.
Casey Owens felt compelled to serve his county after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He served two deployments to Iraq as a United States Marine Corps TOW gunner. He was injured on September 20, 2004 after his convoy was ambushed and a double-stacked IED threw him out of the vehicle he was in. Owens suffered injuries that forced the amputation of both legs, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and was diagnosed with severe PTSD.
After medical retirement from the Marine Corps, Owens joined Challenge Aspen and the United States Paralympic Ski Team.
Owens lost his battle with PTSD in October 2014.
Today, the Jesse Beckius/Casey Owens Veterans Resource Center in Glenwood Springs, which opened in 2017, is dedicated to serving veterans and their families in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties in memory of the two men who ultimately succumbed to the internal battles they continued to fight after the war.
In 2015, Western Slope Veterans Coalition co-founder and Vietnam veteran John Pettit reached out to other Valley veterans and told them something had to be done after the suicides of Beckius and Owens in quick succession .
“You could just feel something was wrong,” Pettit said. “At the time, everyone was starting to come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Pettit went to the Garfield County Board of Commissioners and asked for donations and was able to secure a small office space in downtown Glenwood.
“John asked me if I would be okay with the center being named after Jesse, and I was in tears,” Jesse Beckius’ father John said. “It was such an honor. Jesse had only been back from Afghanistan for five weeks when he took his own life.
Two years later, County Commissioner John Martin asked if the resource center wanted to expand and acquire the adjacent office space next door.
Pettit came up with ideas and concepts he wanted to establish in the new space and in early 2020 he received county approval.
The grand reopening took place in June last year and now offers a computer room, exercise area, flight simulators, pool table, games room and library.
The Resource Center actively works to attract and entice young veterans by offering Sunday football games, poker nights and matches and use of a meeting or meeting room.
The next Football Sunday Rally will be on November 20e starting at noon. Veterans and their families are invited to swing by to play a game of pool, watch football or movies, listen to music or just hang out for a few hours.
“They are not alone”
The resource center not only hopes to provide young veterans with a place to relax and unwind, but also hopes to become a place where they can talk to someone who understands their experiences, if that is what they need.
Often veterans who return home after war have a desire to move on with their lives, Beckius said. Most veterans struggle to make the transition to everyday civilian life and try to force any PTSD and trauma to the back of their mind.
“They (veterans) need to talk to other people who have similar experiences so they can realize they are not alone in this and that there are other veterans out there. the same things as them. Hopefully by talking to each other and working together they can get through this,” Beckius said.
The resource center is also open to families of veterans and recognizes the challenges they face alongside their service member, whether living or deceased.
“When the veteran is gone, his problems went away but the families are still left behind and they are the ones trying to save their lives after something like this happened,” Beckius said. “We tried to figure out what we could do on the family side. It’s not just for the veterans themselves, it’s also for the family.
The resource center has an “emergency fund” with an annual budget of $40,000 to help veterans with any emergencies or unexpected expenses that life might throw at them.
These funds can be used to temporarily house veterans, help repair a car, move house, etc.
“Our last expense helped an Aspen veteran who hit something and tore his car up and caused $6,000 in damage,” Pettit said.
Veterans in need of assistance must come to the center to complete an application and show they have a Dd214, although they do not have to have an honorable discharge.
The emergency fund committee will then review the request for approval or denial or research possible alternative methods.
“We’re trying to give them a helping hand, not a helping hand,” Pettit said. “It’s a bit of an old cliché, but it works. We really want to make sure that if we help them, we want to see them improve their lives.
The resource center recently hired a community outreach coordinator who will lead events and find ways to reach more veterans in hopes of using the center to its full potential. The center is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but will work with veterans if they need or want to use it outside these hours.
“We’re ready to change and do things differently,” Pettit said. “It’s for veterans. It is their place.