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Bob Curry, Founder of Dryhootch

Jul. 9, 2012
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Vietnam combat veteran Bob Curry founded Dryhootch of America in 2008 as an accessible, collaborative network of people and nonprofit organizations to provide support and services for veterans and their families. The innovative organization operates out of coffee houses that serve as gathering places for veterans and families as well as the surrounding community. Since opening the Dryhootch Brady Street Coffee House (1030 E. Brady St.) in 2010, a second Milwaukee location has been added at 4801 W. National Ave., along with chapters in Madison, Waukesha and Chicago. Though Curry confirms tentative plans for additional Dryhootch locations, he also recognizes that the organization's growth reflects an increasing demand for supportive services and signifies “a need that keeps getting worse.”

Why did you decide to base Dryhootch out of a coffee house?

If you have PTSD, it's more than likely that you are going to develop some kind of addiction to deal with it. So I thought let's have a safe, social space, but without the booze. My daughters had worked at a coffee house when they were at UWM, so I thought … let's have a coffee shop where vets and the community can come in and talk—or just have a cup of coffee. We have a lot of vets who come in and have a cup of coffee and after a month or two decide that they want to talk to someone about an issue.

How do you feel the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing meeting the needs of returning veterans?

They are overwhelmed. These wars that our leaders thought 10 years ago would be quick are still going on and you have service people who have gone on multiple deployments. That is exacerbating any injuries they have, mental or physical. So you have a VA that is flooded with people that they never expected. The VA is a big government institution and it works very slowly.

If you were in a position of power at the VA, what changes would you make?

I think that they have to move mental health facilities out of the big VA hospital. A lot of people don't want to deal with mental health, and that's true not just with veterans; that's true with anybody. But the VA also has to do more outreach and work with more organizations that veterans belong to, not only with Dryhootch, but the American Legion or the VFW. The VA has to go into the community and try to find these veterans and help them through the system, because it is overwhelming.

You were recently recognized at the White House for your work with veterans as part of the “Champions of Change” ceremony. What was that experience like?

It was a huge honor for me and for Dryhootch. … But then you get back the next day and there is a whole lot of work that has to be done, including taking out the garbage, so that puts everything back into perspective. But I think that it's great that the White House is recognizing that throughout the community, in all different fields, there are grassroots organizations that are making a change for the better.


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