A Vermont mom is celebrating the opening of a nonprofit wellness and recreation center named for her late son.
Josh Pallotta was a soldier whose death by suicide in 2014 inspired his mother to want to help other military service members experiencing post-traumatic stress.
“It’s surreal to see this,” Val Pallotta said of the new Josh’s House in Colchester’s Fort Ethan Allen. “I hope he’s proud.”
NECN has been following Pallotta’s story for more than six years, since he ended his own life after a return from military service in Afghanistan.
He had served with a Vermont National Guard unit where two close buddies were killed in action, and where Josh suffered a traumatic brain injury and then became withdrawn, his mom said.
In an interview with NECN in 2014, a month or so after Josh died, Val Pallotta made a promise.
“I won’t stop until there’s an end to veteran suicide,” she vowed.
Ever since, Val Pallotta has been tirelessly raising funds, with a vision of a combination wellness and recreation center that is now, finally, a reality.
“It’s about veterans who want to reintegrate and hang out and have a normal life,” Pallotta said.
Josh’s House has a community kitchen, a gym and a computer lab for career readiness. The facility’s director plans programming ranging from from fly-tying to massages, based on the interests of veterans who use the space.
“If it saves one life, it’s worth any amount of money there is,” said Joe Allaire, who is with the local chapter of the Combat Vets Association — one of many groups and businesses whose donations made Josh’s House possible.
Allaire hopes the center will be a laid-back place where some vets who have had traumatic experiences can know they’re not alone.
“It’s tough to talk about,” Allaire said of the trauma that military service personnel can experience. “It’s tough to take that first step to talk about it, and this might be a first step for somebody that’s having that traumatic event in their life to just go and talk to somebody.”
Mike Palaza, a retired service member who now works in recruiting with the University of Vermont Army ROTC, said he is impressed by what the determined mother accomplished following tragedy.
“Instead of dwelling on it, she made something of it,” Palaza observed of Val Pallotta. “And not many people can do that.”
Even with the doors of Josh’s House now open, Pallotta is not saying “mission accomplished” — not yet.
The determined mother is now turning her energies to opening two more Josh’s Houses in Vermont, saying she hopes they’ll become a national model for helping vets heal both body and mind.
“My goal is to have a wellness recreation center for veterans in every state in this country before I die,” Pallotta said.
Pallotta added that she wants to remind veterans in distress, or their loved ones, that caring and confidential support is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1.
Information about accessing crisis services via text is available through this website: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/hotline.