LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- The Coffee Strong organization still has coffee - it’s just not a coffee shop anymore.
“We don’t need to make espresso drinks to help people with veterans’ benefits,” said Coffee Strong co-founder Andrew Wright.
The organization, made up of volunteers and veterans, has helped hundreds of soldiers.
The volunteers have hosted support groups for soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder and have referred some soldiers to mental health counselors.
Wright, a former Marine, said soldiers need a place, off military property, to talk about their problems in a place they can feel safe and supported.
“They’re not alone,” said Wright.
When they started in 2008, Wright said they had to give away coffee to soldiers to get them to come in.
He said word of mouth has enabled them to drop the baristas and focus on helping soldiers, like retired Sergeant First Class Rick Bernsted.
Bernsted served two tours in Iraq. When he returned, he wasn’t comfortable talking to his superiors about his problems.
“The original reason I was looking for help outside of the military was really to stay in the military,” said Bersted. “I didn’t want my stuff on their books.”
Bersted would not share what he needed help for, but says he got it at Coffee Strong.
A Joint Base Lewis-McChord spokesperson said the military offers more support to soldiers than it ever has before and senior officers have made a conscious effort to encourage soldiers to come forward if they are having problems.