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Veterans, Civilians to Hold Dialogue in Westchester

The evening will feature a guided conversation about the effects of war on morality.

War is complicated, and it affects not only those who are actually in the midst of it but those who are left behind at home.

That is the premise of a free event Friday at the nearby New Rochelle Public Library, called "Moral Injury: The Effects of War." The evening will offer veterans and civilians alike the opportunity to discuss just what armed conflict does to everyone.

In collaboration with Intersections International, A Veteran-Civilian Dialogue will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday.

Organizer Joshua Gaccione, who was a paratrooper in Afghanistan and Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, said the evening will allow participants to explore "a different range of emotions, regardless of their political stance."

He said, from his experience, civilians really want to understand the veteran's experience and vice versa.

"Then the veterans are better able to tell their stories," Gaccione said, "and we get a better perspective of what civilians think."

Veteran-Civilian Dialogue was developed in 2008 to build communities and promote social healing by addressing the cost of conflict.

Gaccione, a Hartsdale resident and program director for veterans outreach for Family Services of Westchester in White Plains, said he attended a Veteran-Civilian Dialogue about a year and a half ago.

"I wasn't too sure how I felt about it," he said, adding that he "dragged" himself to another one.

"After the second one, I was able to feel a difference in myself," Gaccione said. "I was comfortable. It was an organic safe space."

He said there are 45,000 veterans in Westchester County and he's hoping many of them will come to the dialog.

"I hope it will get other veterans to share their experiences," Gaccione said. "I hope they will get off the couch, out of the basement and come on Friday."

Larry Winters, a retired psychotherapist and Viet Nam veteran, said he can't think of anything that is more important than opening up a dialog between civilians and veterans.

That is why he created the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue.

"The schism created between civilians and veterans is profound and causes immense amount of pain in veterans and in society," the New Paltz, Ulster County, resident said.

Winters said all too often people have become politically correct in dealing with veterans, without real understanding of what issues veterans have to cope with.

"These people now are involved in terrorist war, which has much more to do with morality that before," he said.

And it's sad to say that the young returning veterans come back from war without being ready to re-enter society, Winters said.

"What winds up happening is they are still in that hypersensitive, survivalist mode," he said, and they are not able to manage going to college or work.

Gaccione stressed that the evening will truly be a dialog.

"Veterans and civilians have an equal amount to give," he said, though the number of veterans who come to events like this tend to be less than the number of civilians.

"But everybody can get something from it," Gaccione said, "and everybody can give something."

The New Rochelle Public Library is located at 1 Library Plz. in New Rochelle.

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