Navy Vet Urges Generosity, Compassion in CSUCI Talk

Kim Mitchell Veterans Village of San Diego

ADVOCATE—Kim Mitchell, president and CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego, spoke recently to nursing students at Cal State Channel Islands about the challenges veterans face after returning to civilian life. Courtesy Kim Mitchell

Noticing I was the only one not eating, she made a point to ask if I’d had lunch yet. When I said, “Yes, but not much,” she offered me half of her sandwich.

That was my first impression of Kim Mitchell, a former Navy lieutenant commander and someone who makes kindness and generosity a priority.

I was not the only one impressed when the 46-year-old recently spoke to an audience of nursing students and several veterans at Cal State Channel Islands.

Mitchell said she’d been invited to speak at the university by Charlene Niemi, an assistant professor of nursing. It was an invitation intended to help the nursing students better understand the emotional, psychological and physical difficulties faced by military personnel returning from active service.

Vietnam veteran Bruce Landry was moved to tears during her hourlong presentation.

Mitchell had driven five hours from San Diego so she could share her story. That’s how passionate she is about her work at Veterans Village of San Diego, a nonprofit organization that assists more than 2,000 San Diego County veterans each year.

 

How she ended up as the chief executive officer of an agency that has been nationally recognized for providing services to homeless military veterans is an incredible true story that seems like it was written for the silver screen.

It began in 1972 in a village in the Quang Tri Province—what was then the northernmost portion of South Vietnam. The village had been attacked, and Mitchell, an infant, was found cocooned by her dead mother who was killed during the fighting.An elder villager found her and handed off the baby to a soldier, who took her to the Sacred Heart orphanage in Da Nang.

It was there that James Mitchell, a young tech sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, adopted her and brought her home to Wisconsin, where she was welcomed as a member of her new family.

Some of her most idyllic Midwest childhood moments revolve around raising a steer for the 4-H Club. Although she never wants to shovel manure again, she said, it was an important character building experience.

She followed in her father’s footsteps to a military career. Mitchell was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy, but the week before she was to start at Annapolis, Mitchell’s father was killed by a lightning strike while walking through the field of their Wisconsin farm, she said.

“So I understand what happens to a family when someone is taken from them,” Mitchell said during the presentation. “I also understand the power of community and what they can do for a family when people come together and support a family during tragic instances.”

The redemptive “power of community” is what she felt in the orphanage, in her hometown, aboard Navy ships for 17 years as a surface warfare officer and during her last two years as deputy director of the joint chiefs of staff for the Office of Warrior and Family Support.

The power of community is a key to the success of Veterans Village of San Diego, a model much needed here in Ventura County, where homeless veterans would definitely benefit from a replication of San Diego’s temporary homeless shelter.

The shelter provides a continuum of care for veterans, including care for substance use, PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and a full range of comprehensive and innovative services, such as prevention, intervention, rehabilitation and follow-up.

The San Diego-based facility has a high rate of success: 55 percent of participants who begin its alcohol and drug treatment programs complete them, compared to a national average of just 38 percent of treatment program participants.

Everything about Mitchell’s shelter is designed to restore a veteran’s sense of value and purpose, to help them build a core and get their balance.

Both the campus-like physical environment and the daily routine have a military flavor. The first 30 days of the program are quite similar to boot camp.

With Veterans Day nearing and the country still divided in terms of perceptions of our current and previous military actions, I was compelled to ask Mitchell how she made peace with everything that happened.

“War is a horrible thing and there will be civilian casualties on both sides of any war,” she said. “I was blessed to be given a life of amazing opportunity when life dealt me some challenges.”

The CSUCI students were encouraged by Mitchell to put empathy first when they start their careers as nurses and encounter veterans who face “isolation, unemployment, a feeling of disconnection, PTSD, childhood trauma and a whole slew of related challenges.”

She reminded all of us listening that day of the quote by Margaret Mead: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

A timely message in words and action for Veterans Day delivered by Mitchell, a veteran who is truly one of those caring people.

Stoneman, a former Ventura County homeless veteran, is now an intern at the Camarillo-based Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit organization. For more details, visit gcvf.org.

Source: The Camarillo Acorn – Article from the October 26, 2018 edition