Berlynn Fleury is currently a Director on the Veterans Defense Project (“VDP”) Board and is a vital asset to the organization. She works as both the Secretary on the Executive Committee and the head of the Special Events Committee. Her work with the VDP and the unique perspective she brings to her roles stems from her own experiences serving in the United States Marine Corps (“Marine Corps”), as well as being a 2019 Veterans Treatment Court graduate herself.
Berlynn is an Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran who served in Afghanistan She entered the Marine Corps at the early age of 17. She was stationed at Camp Lejeune where she met with tremendous hurdles that ultimately resulted in a very difficult adjustment post-service.
Berlynn candidly discloses that, while serving in the Marine Corps, she suffered military sexual trauma. Military sexual trauma is a very widespread and serious problem in the United States military. The definition is extremely broad, including any sort of unwanted sexual contact. However, despite its broad definition, too many cases go unreported, and most victims do not receive the support and help they deserve. Berlynn remembers that on top of the sexual trauma she was forced to endure during her time in the service, she constantly felt pressured by the need to prove herself worthy as a female in a male-dominated organization.
Berlynn can pinpoint her mental health issues and substance abuse struggles back to her experience suffering from military sexual trauma. When she left the service in 2011, she continued to suffer from substance abuse issues, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She felt she had little guidance in re-adjusting to civilian life and struggled to find herself. Ultimately, Berlynn found herself in trouble with the law in multiple locations in Minnesota. Fortunately, with the assistance of former VDP Board Chair Evan Tsai, her public defender, she entered a Veterans Treatment Court program in Ramsey County for the first time in 2015.
Veterans Treatment Courts (“VTC”) are specialty courts that emphasize support and implement restorative justice practices, instead of focusing strictly on typical retributive measures. VTC programs vary by county and by person, but Berlynn took part in both in-patient and out-patient services throughout her two different periods with the program. She was offered one on one time with judges and a court-appointed mentor, and dedicated help from mental health professionals. Berlynn emphasizes that the VTC program was the guidance and support that she needed and had been lacking – it saved her life.
After finding success through the VTC program, Berlynn earned her bachelor’s degree in human services from Metropolitan State University. During her time at Metropolitan State, Berlynn served as the President of the Veterans Club and worked in the Veterans & Military Student Services Office. After working for the Veterans Administration helping fellow veterans, Berlynn recently obtained a position at the Wilder Foundation working in the area of Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services. She also now serves as a mentor for the Hennepin County VTC program. Keeping in a similar line of work, she is also a certified peer specialist and a trained Health & Wellness Coach. She facilitates the only virtual Minneapolis VA Women’s Veterans Support Group that offers support to all women veterans enrolled in VA care.
Berlynn’s experiences with the VTC program and her undergraduate degree led her to an interest in working with the VDP as a member of the Board. She hopes to educate stakeholders about why the work the VDP does is so important to the veteran community, and she would like to see a VTC program become accessible to every veteran in the United States. She brings a passion for supporting a program that was so critical in transforming her life.
When Berlynn is not hard at work, she plays the piano, enjoys rock collecting, and raising butterflies. She is originally from Ventura, California, but has been in the Twin Cities area for many years now and feels at home in the Midwest.
– Written by Sara Weber, University of St. Thomas Lawton Student Extern for the VDP