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New Lander Veterans Center creates space for healing and community

Michael Tanner, Lori Tanner and Tigger the dog stand outside the recently-opened Lander Community Veterans Resource Center.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Michael Tanner, Lori Tanner and Tigger the dog stand outside the recently-opened Lander Community Veterans Resource Center.

The Lander Community Veterans Resource Center officially opened its doors last month. The space is focused on creating a welcoming space for veterans and first responders to process, connect, and access resources.

The center hosted its first-ever Coffeehouse event – a two-hour open house to give veterans and their families a chance to learn more about the new space and connect with each other.

A tall tiger-striped shepherd named Tigger greeted visitors as they walked through the door of the center on a bright fall morning.

Tigger the dog.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Tigger the dog.

Tigger is Michael Tanner’s new service-dog –– well, service dog in training. Tanner’s an Air Force vet who’s the executive director of the new organization. He’s also the chaplain for the local and district American Legion Chapter.

“As a chaplain, I'm obligated, by my oath, to do everything I can to help those in need. As a military veteran, I took an oath to protect and defend,” he said.

Michael said Lander is home to more than 870 registered military vets – more than 10 percent of the town’s population.

“I got tired of burying veterans that we should not have been burying, and it's because they were not getting the services they needed. And it's like, okay, something's gotta get done,” he said.

Michael is joined by his wife Lori, the center’s administrative assistant and organizer, in the sun-filled front room of the center. They’ve made the space inviting, with comfortable couches and a big pot of coffee brewing in a percolator.

“We set the stage, and now we need the players upon it, we need the veterans to come in – and like Michael said, this will be what the veterans want it to be,” she said.

A shelf with coffee and decorations.
Hannah Habermann
The coffee percolator and accommodations.

Lori and Michael live across the street from the center, which is on a quiet corner of a residential neighborhood. Lori said the location was right under their noses.

“We're standing outside and Michael's like, wait a minute, because we're racking our brains thinking – where are we going to do this? There's empty buildings along Main Street, but they were way too expensive,” she said.

The center received a grant from the LOR Foundation to pay for the first year of rent for the space. The Tanners wanted to make sure the new center was nowhere near a bar – and that the location could provide some privacy that might help veterans feel more comfortable coming in.

“People are cautious anyway, but veterans are especially cautious,” Lori said.

Like Tom Roberts, for example. He’s a Marine Corps vet who’s been going to the center over the last month. But, he wouldn’t have come in the first time without the support of his wife.

“She came [with me] the first couple of times and then she asked me if it was good. And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she goes, ‘Now you’ve got a place of your own’,” he said.

Roberts deals with PTSD, depression and anxiety and has a bad back. He said he’s had difficulty building trust with counselors, but that coming to the center has been different.

“But these guys, to trust, it was almost instant. I felt something and I'm glad I did. These folks are good,” he said.

So far, the center has started a “Veterans Talking to Veterans” group that meets every Thursday. They’re also working to get another group called “Moral Injury” up and running.

Roberts said accessing physical and mental health support while in the service was difficult – and that he hasn’t always known how to cope with the pain of his experiences in the aftermath. But, he said because he feels trust in the center and the Tanners, he’s taking advantage of these services and groups.

“This place is really needed, so many veterans in the whole county need some place like this. And it really is not just veterans, but first responders too, all these people,” he said.

For Wade LeBeau, that’s really the point of the center. LeBeau is on the board of directors and served in the Navy. He said so many vets struggle to transition back to life after service and have a hard time finding purpose or meaning.

“We were all reprogrammed to do a job, to be a machine. And then when you get out, you realize you're no longer a machine. But who are you?,” he said.

LeBeau is Eastern Shoshone and is a coach for the center’s “Veterans Talking to Veterans” group. He said that Native vets face a unique set of challenges when they come home – and have to grapple with hard questions.

“Because of the past that has happened with the Natives and colonization and the massacres that have happened, the fighting that has happened, I've been asked, ‘Why would I serve a country that killed us?’,” he said.

LeBeau said that being a veteran creates a deep bond with other veterans – and that bond can be crucial in moving forward and healing.

“That commonality is good for all of us to lean into and to share, and to help us heal through these things and support each other,” he said.

LeBeau said that, not too long ago, his community held blanket ceremonies to welcome vets back into the tribe and help them mark the end of their service. He said those sorts of ceremonies should be reintroduced – and that groups like those at the center are important for validating veteran’s experiences.

“We’re so great at defending each other. But these groups now, we’ve got to become great at helping each other heal from what has happened,” he said.

Brandy Tuttle, Wade LeBeau, Joey Waller, Delvin Barnes, Tom Roberts, and Lori Tanner stand together inside the Lander Veterans Community Resource Center during its first Coffeehouse event.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Brandy Tuttle, Wade LeBeau, Joey Waller, Delvin Barnes, Tom Roberts, and Lori Tanner stand together inside the Lander Veterans Community Resource Center during its first Coffeehouse event.

And Tom Roberts wants to help. He’s planning to volunteer to run the Coffeehouse, which will be open for two hours every day during the week. Roberts said the dedication of the Tanners has already been a huge comfort.

“I know, no matter what the weather is, because of their location and where they live, I know they're gonna be here and they’ll get here. And if whoever's instructing it can't get here, it'll still be open for us to be in here and talk. I just know that,” he said.

That’s exactly the type of community the Tanners want to create. And they aren’t stopping any time soon – they are currently working on building desks for a computer lab at the center, so that veterans can access telehealth services and take online college courses.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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