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Veterans Legacy program transforms former forest work camp

Officials with the Veterans Legacy program near Alma hope to open the doors in early fall of 2018. (SBG)

ALMA, Ore. -- Directors of a new veterans treatment program in Lane County are looking at early fall to open the doors.

It's the Veterans Legacy program near Alma, where the vision is taking shape in a pastoral scene in the coast range southwest of Eugene.

It doesn't look different from the outside, but the former inmate work camp is transforming into a place of new hope for Oregon veterans.

You can't see it well from the entrance, but change is coming to the former Lane County Sheriff's forest work camp as a new sign announces the future program at Camp Alma.

"It feels like coming home, it really does," says newly retired Captain Dan Buckwald from the Lane County Sheriff's Office. He's returning to his roots, returning to the camp where he served for 13 years - this time to help veterans, especially those caught up in the criminal justice system.

"19.1 percent of our prison population are veterans, so we really need to look at how we are addressing that," Buckwald, the Veterans legacy Board Vice President, explains. "What are we doing differently? Because we need to do something differently."

Buckwald remembers the large number of vets cycling in and out of jail during his time with the sheriff's office as commander. Many of these vets were arrested for homeless-related crimes. "Because of mental illness or addiction problems," Buckwald explains. "They don’t need to be in the jail; they need to be in this kind of environment.”

Program leaders say Veterans Legacy is set up to be a critical link between existing services for vets.

"Our advantage is we're not just providing a roof; we're providing therapy the moment they step on this property," says Dr. John LeBow, Veterans Legacy Board President. He says the goal is a fully integrated treatment program in a rural setting using therapeutic agriculture as a key tool.

"They're not here for us to tell them what to do and how to do it," says Clarence Williams, Director of Strategic Planning. "We are here to create an individual support plan."

Donations are coming in from other agencies, including a bed set from a dorm at the university of Oregon. Word about Veterans Legacy is spreading.

"They talk amongst each other; they know that this is happening and I'm sure there are veterans that can't wait to be their first outpatient or first in-patient," says Veterans Stand Down director Floyd Bard.

Leaders say five-to-seven vets will be here by September to open the new program.

Ultimately, they plan for up to 50 vets at the Veterans Legacy Camp. Vets with severe PTSD and those fighting substance abuse will be the emphasis of the new program.

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