Becky Vinson’s military background was obvious as she led the latest Recovery Beyond climb team up Mt. St. Helens. She is comfortable dishing out orders and there isn’t a hint of compromise in her voice.
“Put on your packs. Break time is over.”
“We gotta pick up the pace.”
But there is more to Becky than toughness. Positivity and a can-do spirit radiate from every pore. It’s impossible not to love her. She is a force of goodwill.
Becky got involved with Recovery Beyond back in 2016 when she was providing veterans’ services at the Tacoma Rescue Mission. She was invited to become a volunteer on Recovery Beyond’s climb team. Now she also serves on the Recovery Beyond Advisory Team.
“I have no idea why I thought climbing Rainier would be easy,” she laughs. “I WAY underestimated it. I was the slowest one in the group. I had never done any serious hiking. My job was to boost everyone else’s self-esteem by always being dead last. But somehow I made it up.”
From her years in the Navy, Becky suffers with PTSD. As she climbed, she discovered something that surprised her.
“The rhythm of climbing became a tool to work out my anxiety. I was actually shocked at the mental health benefits. The pace is regular, like a metronome. Everything syncs to that pace. I don’t know how it works. It was an accidental discovery. But the more I hike and climb the more I understand that it is important to do activities that are strenuous. Climbing is grueling. But as I take each step, I work out the stuff inside. I’ve talked with lots of others about this and they all say the same thing.”
Spotting Becky sitting behind a desk is unlikely. Instead, you’ll find her with a backpack slung over her shoulder, making her way to the homes of veterans of WW2, the Korean War, and Vietnam. “Many of them are homebound due to war injuries and other significant chronic illnesses. I even manage people on ventilators. It’s a real honor taking care of these people who are literal heroes.”
Becky also volunteers at the Neighborhood Clinic in Tacoma where she works with poor, homeless, and disadvantaged people. Prior to this, Becky started the Homeless Veterans Primary Care Team.
“Homelessness is a deep, dark, black hole with no ladder. If you want out, you have to scale the walls. Lots of people give up.”
This strikes home for Becky. In high school, she was homeless herself. Her way out was the Navy. After serving from 1992-1997 she used the G.I. Bill to become a Registered Nurse, then paid her own way to become a Nurse Practitioner.
“I found a way out,” she says,”so I know it’s possible. I consider it a duty to help others find their way out too. I know what it’s like to be in that hole. And I know you can get out.”
“Most people didn’t have cars and money to get to the V.A. so I went to them. I remembered what it was like to be on the streets. I asked myself where I would go and
started looking. Sure enough, I found them there.”
Becky offered medical assistance right on the street and helped people find housing and other benefits. “Homeless people always have multiple things going on. Almost always there is addiction. But also, mental illness, various forms of abuse… Some people think it is hopeless. I don’t. There’s always a way. I just take it one issue at a time.”
In all her work, Becky considers trust her most powerful asset.
“These people have heard lots of promises that were not kept. It is critical that I keep my word. I tell them I’ll be here every week at a certain time. I invite them to come see me and check-in. I tell them their situation won’t scare me off, that I’ve probably seen worse. I will be here. I will listen. Then it’s on me to follow through, every week, without fail.”
“People regularly say to me, ‘You’re the only person in this world I trust.’ That is exactly what I want to be. If there is one supportive, reliable person in your life, it’s a game-changer.”
“If I had a magic pill to fix addiction, I’d prescribe it. I don’t have one. I can give pills for blood pressure. Or diabetes. But I can’t cure addiction. That’s why mountaineering is important and why I volunteer with Recovery Beyond. It’s a tool. It helped me. It helps others. The exterior mountain is an exact parallel of the inner mountain. Climb one and you climb the other. It’s more than a metaphor. It’s a fact.”
“Being able to make it out of homelessness and to help others do the same—honest to God, I feel like the luckiest person alive. In fact, I know I am. I’m happy. I love living this life. I’m surrounded by great people. I wake up every day, look in the mirror, and like who I see. The rewards for my own mental health are outstanding. This is the best I’ve ever felt. By helping others, I get to feel normal. Man, it’s a great feeling. I want everyone to feel it too.”
Story written by Maury Robertson