Wilsonville veteran hopes to jump-start nonprofit to put veterans to work, provide place for felloship

Wilsonville resident and United States Air Force Captain John Budiao relayed a quote well-known in military circles that describes the fissure between ordinary civilians and those who have served in the military. {John Budiaoimg:185055}

"For those that will fight for it...freedom ...has a flavor the protected shall never know."

And to Budiao this gulf of experience, along with the trauma of war and the stresses of returning to civilian life, can lead veterans down a destructive path toward mental illness.

Budiao says veterans can face insidious hurdles such as isolation, loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts. In fact, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide per day in 2014 and veterans accounted for 18 percent of all suicides nationwide.

Budiao is determined to ameliorate this problem by developing a woodworking shop for veterans. His goal is to raise $1 million to get the shop up and running.

Budiao has served in the Marines and the Air Force during his 24-year career, has deployed in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and was recently deployed in an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia as an Aerial Port Flight Commander. He's also been nominated for the Wilsonville Citizen of the Year award twice and has served as the scoutmaster for Wilsonville Boy Scout Troop 194.

For Budiao, the issue of veteran suicides hits close to home.

One friend and veteran took his own life after being discharged from the marines for smoking marijuana; another did so after struggling to find employment and another did so after resorting to drugs and struggling to assimilate to civilian life. And Budiao says he dealt with anger issues that sprouted up while serving in the Marines. He attributes his loving family and support system for helping him work through negative emotions.

Budiao says returning home can compound stressful experiences — leading to suicidal thoughts.

"I think the higher rate of suicide can be directly attributed to the amount of life frustrations we all face daily. Just like the life-changing issues with the friends I lost. Some bad life choices, the haplessness of the single situation, loss for answers to them, actual people that care," Budiao says. "Three of the worse stressors in any person's life are a death in the family, divorce, and a move. Sometimes military folks experience all three at once. A death on a deployment, moving back home, and then a divorce after things can't be worked out. This time can be the bottom of most people's lives."

Budiao gleaned the idea for the workshop during a "Heroes Breakfast" at Grace Chapel Church in Wilsonville. Sitting at a table with police officers, firemen, emergency medical technicians and fellow service members, he had a cathartic conversation about death and discussed the usefulness of a group in which veterans could talk about their experiences in a comfortable and empathetic environment.

The "Heroes Breakfast" took place in 2009, but after recently nearly losing another friend to suicide, Budiao decided he couldn't sit on his hands any longer.

"I'm tired of asking 'How' or 'Why' and I need to start asking 'Why not' and 'How can I help,'" he said.

At the workshop, veterans would fashion American flags, wooden crosses, bird and bat homes for scout programs, military shadow boxes and coin racks, among other items.

Budiao believes the workshop could have the dual benefit of providing a place for veterans to open up and relate to one another while also learning carpentry skills.

"The woodworking shop came about as a place to learn a skill and converse with those who knew what we know and probably have seen the things we have seen. Just a place to hang out, talk, have coffee and take pride in the products being made," Budiao said.

Calculating that the workshop would cost $350,000 per year to operate to go along with the exorbitant costs of starting the shop, Budaio came up with the $1 million goal. However, he acknowledges reaching the goal might not happen and would consider starting the program anyway on a limited budget or donating the money to a program that supplies veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder with black lab service dogs if the goal is not reached. Budiao says his own black lab helped calm him down following service.

He won't turn down donations but encourages donating $22.

"But what an accomplishment it would be if we do reach $1 million all by $22 donations from those who love this idea all over the U.S.A.," he said.

Budiao just wants to help any way he can.

"Learning those coping mechanisms in a non-sterile environment is only one answer to this problem. I'm not saying it's the best, but at least I can say I'm trying to make a difference," he said.

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