Josh Wiewel was an aircraft electrician in the Air Force but was medically discharged after eight years due to back problems. Following three back surgeries, Wiewel became addicted to painkillers.
“That’s kind of how it started, but I took it to a whole new level. I just got to where I couldn’t stop and had to buy on the streets,” Wiewel said.
Wiewel’s family discovered his opiate problem in December of 2016. He went through a program in Oklahoma City for them and was clean for four months before relapsing.
Now he’s working through his addiction for himself with help from the Dallas VA Medical Center.
“It’s been what I needed. I was blown away by how many different things they do for veterans who are in trouble, who are in need, who need help,” Wiewel said. “I don’t feel like I deserve it for having a drug problem.”
Veterans who seek help through the Dallas VA Medical Center, whether for substance abuse and addiction or for homelessness, take a trip to Veterans of Foreign War Post 9168 for a home-cooked meal and camaraderie every other month.
The VFW is a nonprofit service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members. The Lewisville post has a canteen where members and non-members signed in as guests can purchase food or drink, with profits benefitting its veteran and scholarship programs.
The opportunity to meet new people brought Wiewel to the VFW on Sunday, Sept. 17.
“They told me there was going to be good food and good people, so I figured I’d get out of the dormitory for awhile,” he said.
This month the veterans stacked their plates with sausages, brisket, pulled pork and ham prepared by a volunteer group of food enthusiasts from the Facebook group Campfire Southern Style. Veterans coupled their barbecued meats with beans, casserole, pasta salad, potato salad, rolls and greens.
The meals the patients typically are served at the Dallas VA hospital are cooked in Bonham, nearly 80 miles away, and trucked to the center daily, said Martha Moore, VFW Auxiliary treasurer and hospital chairman.
The inpatient veterans can take home donated clothes, shoes, DVDs and toiletries, Moore said. While visiting the post, they can participate in a billiards tournament or play bingo.
VFW quartermaster Guy Northrup said the post was built by members and serves to help any veteran.
“We take care of homeless vets, veterans that need help,” said Northrup, a retired Marine. “They need a meal? We have a meal for them. We’re veterans helping veterans.”
Jimmie Cantrell ended his time with the Navy in 1961 and became a member of VFW Post 9168 in 1965. He is a former state commander and former post commander among other positions.
He said the post has been hosting Veterans’ Day Out for more than 30 years.
“Some of them are dealing with a lot of problems. Getting away from the hospital and coming out here and enjoying themselves, it helps them emotionally,” Cantrell said. “We try to talk to every one of them when they come in the door and let them know we appreciate them and their service and that we’re here for them if they need us.”
In addition to helping veterans in person, members of the VFW advocate for legislation that helps veterans to make sure they get what they’ve earned, Cantrell said. Without veterans’ organizations, he doesn’t believe these sorts of services and advocacy for veterans would exist.
“Our country too soon forgets about what these folks have done for them,” he said.
The VFW sponsors Boy Scout Troop 9168 and gives scholarships to Lewisville ISD school children.
“It’s not just a bar,” Cantrell said.
The post also holds fundraisers to benefit veterans’ programs. Campfire Southern Style started providing the Day Out meals after Larry Warnack participated at the VFW’s chili cook off fundraiser.
This was Campfire’s second time to cook for the gathering. Warnack, who served in the Army, said he hopes the group will be able to provide the meal before Thanksgiving come November, complete with fried and smoked turkeys.
“Just think about what the veterans have been through to get here, and give any way you can,” Warnack said.
Those wishing to donate clothes or money to VFW Post 9168 can take it there between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at 997 E. Highway 121 Business in Lewisville. The post can be reached at 972-436-5256.
To volunteer with Dallas VA Medical Center, call 214-857-0428 or email NTXVoluntaryAdmin@va.gov.
To donate ingredients or supplies to Campfire Southern Style for the next meal they prepare for Veterans’ Day Out, email Warnack at email@example.com.