On Saturday, Bill Ballard will host the second annual benfit for the Returning Veterans Project, which provided free counseling to help his 14-year-old granddaughter, Bella, adjust to the way her father had changed after he returned from serving in Iraq.This weekend, a veteran-owned Forest Grove motorcycle shop will host a family-friendly fundraiser aimed at helping veterans and their families survive and thrive.

From 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday, July 20, people can visit the grounds of the Iron Horse Garage to support the Returning Veterans Project, an organization that provides free counseling and other health services to returning veterans and their families, at its second annual Veterans Day in July.

“The wonderful thing about RVP is that they extend assistance to not only veterans, but also their family,” said Janel Thomas of Hillsboro. Her daughter, Bella Rossi, 14, received more than nine months of free counseling from an RVP counselor.

Bella’s dad is an Army veteran who served in Iraq. Upon his return, Bella needed help coping with the new person her dad had become. The trouble was, her health care only covered a few visits with a counselor — far from what she needed.

“I don’t think I would’ve had the time to let my brain heal from what I saw,” said Bella, who declined to go into detail. “I needed to be able to recover from that.”

The all-day event at the Iron Horse Garage will include a free pancake breakfast, poker run, a car and bike show, horseshoe and pool tournaments, raffles, door prizes, live music and refreshments. The garage is owned by Bill Ballard, Thomas’ father, who is also a veteran.

The event came together last year with just over three weeks’ planning, Thomas said. The goal was simply to have a fun time with friends and help get the word out about what RVP does, she said. Despite the quick turnaround time, the event raised more than $1,100 for RVP. Help from the Portland-based organization was a godsend for Thomas’ family, because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t really equipped to help children, Thomas said.

Her daughter was able to access about 10 free counseling visits, and can be in touch with her counselor in the future, if needed. In helping plan the event, Thomas wanted to support RVP’s efforts to help other families like hers.

“It’s the mothers, the sisters, the daughters. Everyone gets their fair share with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Thomas said. “When your mom or dad goes to war, they’re seldom who they used to be when they return.”by: COURTESY PHOTOS: JANEL THOMAS - U.S. Navy veteran Bill Wild Bill Ballard (second from left) owns and operates the Iron Horse Garage on Thatcher Road in Forest Grove, where he hosted the first Veterans Day in July fundraiser last summer.

Not being limited to just a few visits was key to Bella’s healing, she said.

“They talked to me about things I couldn’t open up to other people about,” Bella said.

Belle Landau, RVP’s executive director, said it’s common for the VA to cover only six counseling visits for family members.

Landau said a wave of veterans is headed toward Oregon as the military winds down in Afghanistan, and events like this are crucial to get the word out to new providers who may be able to volunteer their time in the future.

Currently, 151 providers are available through RVP, offering services like acupuncture, massage and chiropractic treatments in addition to counseling.

Beyond the money raised at this year’s event, Landau values the grassroots effort to let more people know how they can help. RVP is already halfway to its goal of adding 60 new providers to its roster this year, she said.

“We believe it is the community’s collective responsibility to help families heal.”

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