Veterans shared their stories in Israel while recovering from war


Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

Veterans visited UT on Wednesday to discuss their trip to Israel as a way to recover from the trauma of war.

The veterans, speaking at an information session arranged by UT Student Body President Kevin Helgren, discussed their trip sponsored by the Heroes to Heroes Foundation. The foundation is a non-denominational organization that provides veterans with resources to recover from war by sending those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury to Israel as a way to provide spiritual healing.

“Israel is the birthplace of all religions,” said Michael Haltman, foundation volunteer board chair. “It’s probably one of the most spiritual places in the world. Israel helps them to begin the process of healing.”

Although he was hesitant to go to Israel because of its media portrayal, Staff Sergeant Sergio Lopez said going through with the program was the best decision he’s ever made.

“We got to see so much of Israel and all these holy sites,” Lopez said. “When we were at the church of Nativity, we just took a moment to reflect on the fact that here’s where Lord Jesus was born, and it was nice. It felt good.”

Another veteran, Staff Sergeant Angel W. Rivera Jr. said he suffered from depression and was almost suicidal before the trip.

“I closed my eyes, and what I see is what happened out there,” Rivera said. “It wasn’t until I got baptized in the Jordan River that I felt like weight (was) coming off me. Then I saw the stall that Jesus was born, in Bethlehem, and right now I have no thoughts of killing myself.”

Rivera suggested the University create a therapeutic room solely for veterans on campus, which could be made possible in the new Mind Body Lab, Helgren said.

Government freshman Nate Johnson said he was blown away by how open Lopez and Rivera were with sharing their stories.

“You know PTSD is a thing, but it’s a completely different thing when you hear it firsthand from somebody who suffers from it,” Johnson said. “My father was a veteran, so it’s just very heartwarming to know these services are out there for something that 1 percent of people have that experience.”

Haltman said the program is also open to student veterans, as long as they fulfill the criteria to apply.