Elizabeth St. Pierre grew up knowing that her grandfather had come back from World War II a changed man.
He’d been shot twice and seen things in the field that returned to him, years later, in nightmares and flashbacks. Then, though, post-traumatic stress disorder went unnamed and untreated. Soldiers soldiered on. “He went to school on the G.I. Bill,” St. Pierre said. “He did what that generation did.”
Her grandfather’s example and that of other family members — every branch of the military has its representative in St. Pierre’s family — had a profound effect. St. Pierre has spent most of her professional life working with veterans.
For the past 16 years, St. Pierre, who graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, has worked for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and, for the past seven, managed Fisher House Boston, part of the VA Boston Healthcare System. The facility offers temporary lodging to families of veterans receiving care at the local VA Hospital. Families’ stays may be short- or long-term. “One family arrived with a two-month-old baby and by the time the family left, that baby was walking,” St. Pierre said. “A family’s love is good medicine.”
Sometimes healing is psychological. Case in point: Veterans of the Vietnam War faced hostility upon return home. St. Pierre’s uncle was one.
“My uncle came up to the VA for treatment and attended a veterans’ event wearing a Vietnam vet baseball cap,” St. Pierre said. “He said, ‘Look, Beth, this is the first time I’ve worn this.’ He got it for the event. It was wonderful. This kind of healing continues.”