For nearly a century, The American Legion Family has financially and emotionally cared for veterans and their families suffering from the wounds of war. This unconditional generosity can be seen and felt at Camp American Legion in Lake Tomahawk, Wis.
Since 1925, the Department of Wisconsin has maintained and operated Camp American Legion located on the shores of Big Carr Lake — a 213-acre lake in Oneida County, Wis. From early May until late September, the 74-acre facility provides rehabilitation, recuperation and rest to Wisconsin veterans, their families, active-duty servicemembers and – in some cases – surviving families of fallen servicemembers. Campers stay from 10 a.m. Monday to 10 a.m. Sunday.
The camp is open to Wisconsin veteran or active-duty servicemember with a physician-documented physical or psychological illness, injury or disability, active-duty military who have returned from a deployment within the past nine months, and any surviving family member of a servicemember killed in the past year are eligible to attend the camp. When a veteran or servicemember requires a caregiver, the caregiver also is eligible to attend.
The camp consists of:
Stephen Parker – a 100-percent service-connected, combat-injured U.S. Navy veteran – came to Camp American Legion in 2010 to help deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "Combat is not a cool thing," he said. "No good comes out of it. Some of those feelings you get from what you've experienced never goes away. But when you can be around other veterans, you sort of feel safe. It's about healing and growing, and this place offers that."
The help that Parker went seeking at Camp American Legion has become the help that he delivers to fellow veterans. Parker is now a volunteer at the camp and has served as a boat captain and fishing guide for the past three years.
"When I saw the other veterans here, I thought I could help them," Parker said. "The thing about veterans is we are a family. Most veterans are very quiet about where they've been and what they've done. But when they sit around with other veterans and integrate with them, it helps them drop their guard."
Throughout the camp season, a variety of weeks have themes that focus on a specific condition or situation. For example, a week's theme may be about families of fallen servicemembers, veterans dealing with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, blind or vision-impaired veterans, homeless veterans, women veterans, substance abuse and peer support.
"Three or four years ago, when we started doing all these new programs, all of those were just a dream," said Kevin Moshea, camp director. "They've all become reality. Dreams do come true if you work hard enough."
More than 1,000 veterans or family members attended Camp American Legion during the 2013 season, all for free. The Department of Wisconsin allocates $250,000 a year for the camp; donations also account for 30 percent of its operating budget. And posts, counties and districts "adopt" cabins and are responsible for the upkeep.