KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Northeast Florida and Clay County is home to many veterans. Veterans and their families, while often entitled to benefits from a grateful nation, are not immune to the hard …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Northeast Florida and Clay County is home to many veterans. Veterans and their families, while often entitled to benefits from a grateful nation, are not immune to the hard situations that befall many Americans.
Often, veterans face their own circumstances, which their fellow citizens who have never served cannot imagine.
One of those veterans is Osee “Trey” Fagan, a disabled 17-year U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations veteran who faced multiple combat deployments to include Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Fagan’s service as a Scout Sniper led to difficulties upon his return from combat that is shared by many other combat veterans. Fagan dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and heavy drinking. These issues caused him almost to lose his family. Close friends guided him to seek the help he needed to overcome his problems and regain control of his life and save his family.
Four years later, with typical Marine resiliency, Fagan is back and charging hard. He and his wife have dedicated their lives to helping other veterans, first responders and their families dealing with similar issues stemming from the challenges of both military service and civilian life.
The organization that Fagan and his wife have built is called Operation Barnabus. The name Barnabus, in a Biblical context, means ‘Son of Encouragement.’
“I joke around with people, and I tell them that I’m selfish. Helping others is genuinely my therapy. It makes me feel good to be able to share and give back to the community,” Fagan said.
Operation Baranbus’ mission statement is “Igniting a positive transformation in the lives of Veterans and First Responders who are trying to find purpose in life or are struggling with PTSD.”
Over the past year, Operation Barnabus, now a full-fledged not-for-profit organization, has built a board and has gained supporters who also want to help in its mission.
All of the resources Operation Barnabus has available are entirely free to the recipient and their families. First, the individual/family is identified and then assessed for the best way to assist.
Some of the services offered are the provision of safe living spaces, transportation, and assistance with finding employment. When he first started, Fagan said he purchased a camper, and when it was needed, he would take it to campsites to help out and allow a family to live in it.
“I could only help one family at a time,” he said. He then connected with someone from a local hotel, who has been able to provide five rooms a month to provide a safe living location for those who need it for the first 30 days. During this time, he works to connect the veteran or first responder with volunteer caseworkers. They help with resume work and employment searches, as well as a rental stipend to get them into more long-term living environments.
Many families are falling victim to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of adults losing their employment and becoming homeless. For the veterans that Operation Barnabus helps, the goal is to tie them into the Veteran’s Affairs system, which has many resources to help them get back on their feet.
The organization also tries to get reliable transportation for those in need.
“The big thing about Operation Barnabus,” said Fagan, “Is we try to maintain one-to-one mentoring with them and walk with them through their struggles to get them to where they’re supporting themselves again.”
Like any organization, Operation Barnabus cannot function without money. Last year, they raised $34,000, according to Fagan. $31,000 of that went directly to helping families in need. Anyone can donate time, funds, or anything else that may be necessary.