Former Marine to Offer Sober Meeting Space for Military Veterans

By Victoria Kim 06/08/15

VFW Post 1019 has been established as a sober meeting place for vets looking for a different scene.

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When the liquor license for VFW Post 1019 in Albany was too expensive to renew, former Marine Robert Porter saw an opportunity to attract the more than 4,000 veterans in Albany County, of which only about a thousand belong to a VFW.

“That tells me that there’s ... 3,000 veterans out there that don’t come to a post because of some reason or another. And that reason might be alcohol,” he told CBS 6 Albany. Porter, who took over as an officer at VFW Post 1019 last month, said the taps have been dry for five years and he wants to keep it that way. “So by making this post dry, we’re inviting those 3,000 here. I want all veterans to be happy. I want them to come down and be with fellow veterans.”

Porter, who served as a Substance Abuse Counseling Officer (SACO) during his 21 years in the Marine Corps., is hoping that a fresh take on his VFW post will attract more members, especially of the younger generation of vets, with amenities like coffee, wifi, and live music. “Alcohol doesn’t have to be a part of your life,” he told CBS.

The VFW could certainly use a fresh approach. Between 2010 and 2011, it lost 100,000 members and closed about 100 posts, according to NPR. 

Porter said the veterans' community is a “very alcohol-related environment,” which could alienate vets, especially the generation who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who prefer a different scene. “The impression I had ... is a bunch of old guys sitting around smoking and drinking cheap booze in a dark room,” one vet wrote on a forum about the organization. “No thanks.”

VFW Post 1019 wouldn’t be the first dry VFW in the country. Dryhootch, a post in Milwaukee, has already established itself as a successful, sober meeting place for veterans. Dryhootch is a coffee house, not a bar, where veterans could socialize and receive support like peer-to-peer counseling.

Its founder, Vietnam veteran Bob Curry, saw alcohol’s destructive nature as counterproductive for veterans, many of whom are healing from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Nearly 20% of current vets suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder or depression, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“They’re symptomatic soldiers who are struggling, ordinarily with post-trauma symptoms and depression,” Dr. David Rudd, the scientific director at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, told NPR. “And you add alcohol into the mix, and you take a disinhibited population, disinhibit them even further—make them more impulsive through the use of alcohol—and it escalates the probability of a bad outcome.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr