Victory for Veterans
Former Drug Dealer / Night Club Owner Is Fighting A Winning Battleby Shirley Tracy

They come from all over the country and represent different backgrounds, nationalities and races. Some carry physical scars; some carry emotional scars. Many are homeless. But all have one thing in common: They are men and women who have served their country in the armed forces and who are now being treated for a variety of mental and/or physical conditions at the VA Hospital in Brecksville. An overwhelming percentage of these veterans are hurting. They want to change their lives and don’t know how. They feel rejected and abandoned, forgotten by America. But God has not forgotten them. He has raised up a ministry of hope and spiritual healing known as Victory for Veterans.

Perhaps no one understands American vets better than Earl Rollyson, founder and president of Victory for Veterans, a volunteer organization to help hurting vets. A veteran himself, he served in Viet Nam and recounts with intense feeling the horrors of that war. He knows the anger, pain and isolation many war-time veterans have suffered upon returning home to their friends and families, driving a lot of them to numb themselves with drugs and alcohol. He is dedicated to reaching out to all vets, offering friendship and a listening ear. And most of all, Earl knows who can change their lives, the same friend who changed his?The Lord Jesus Christ.

Earl Rollyson was on a downward spiral by the time he entered the Brecksville facility as an outpatient in 1978. He was a drug dealer, busted for distributing drugs and he faced a ten to twenty year sentence. On appeal, he was given three years’ probation, with the stipulation he enter a drug treatment program for the whole three years. Because Earl was a veteran, the judge allowed him to go into a treatment program at the VA hospital. He had used drugs and alcohol since age twelve. In Viet Nam, he had experimented with harder stuff. Despite the drug treatment

program at Brecksville, however, he couldn’t seem to quit using. By this time, it was Heroin and Cocaine Even a twelve-step program failed to work for him.

Finally, in 1980, it was recommended that Earl go into the program there as an inpatient, to which he agreed. His counselor was a Viet Nam Vet, who had been assigned to one of the tougher units involved in night combat in Viet Nam. This earned Earl’s respect. On top of that, Earl noticed there was something different about him. He was patient and sensitive even with the hard core drug addicts. The two of them developed a good relationship. Earl was at a point in his life where he wanted to get away from the drugs, but didn’t know how. Part owner of an Akron night club, he kept getting dragged back into the whole seen of drugs, women, and living in the fast lane. It was all he knew. But one day, he hung around after a group session to talk with his counselor.

"They’re putting people on the moon," Earl told him. "If they can do that, why can’t they come up with some kind of mind block that I could forget about the drugs the fast money, the power, and all the rest?"

"It sounds like you really mean it," his counselor replied. "It’s about lunch time. Want to take a walk and we’ll talk more?"

He could say little about his faith while on the clock, but lunch was on his own time, and it was a ten minute walk from where they were, to where they were going.

"In that ten minutes," says Earl, "he dropped the gospel on me as plain and simple as you could, that Jesus died on the cross for me, Earl Rollyson."

Earl was carrying the weight of a heavy conscience, but he says the counselor told him, "You know, that can all go into the sea of forgetfulness. Jesus will just cut that big trailer you’re towing along with all that garbage right off. He’ll cut that hitch off and you’ll be free."

Only a few weeks into the drug treatment program, Earl was still messed up from the effects of the drugs, physically from the heroin, psychologically from the cocaine. But he desperately wanted to be free. Right then and there, he prayed, asking Jesus to come into his heart; and when he had finished praying, the heaviness of his addiction was gone.

After leaving the treatment program, Earl went home and found a church. Then, he experienced a setback. In 1984, while still in the VA’s After Care program, he backslid. Without praying and reading the Bible regularly, and without being in any kind of Christian group to hold him accountable, he got back into drugs. This time was worse than before. Earl says that he knows the Holy Spirit tried to get his attention many times, but he ignored every attempt. Then, through a series of circumstances, Earl found himself back in the treatment center at Brecksville.

He was only there a few days before he figured out what went wrong. As he shook hands with the chaplain, a light came on in his head and he knew what he had to do. He got back into the Word every day. While the rest of the men were involved with other activities, Earl sat reading his Bible. One day, he looked up to see another man sitting at the table with him. One by one, others began joining them, until, by the end of the week, they had their own Bible study right there in the VA hospital. Even the administration and staff took notice of how far back Earl had slipped and how quickly he recovered.

For two more years, Earl stayed in the after care program. He and his wife attended a family and couples’ group once a week, and Earl continued to meet with his counselor.

On one occasion, Earl invited another fellow, a wheelchair patient with a serious cocaine habit, to a "rap" session, held on a Thursday night at The Gospel House. Earl didn’t bother to explain to him that they were going to a church. When they arrived, the fellow looked out the car window and said, "I don’t do church." He went in anyway, heard the Gospel and was saved that very night. He and Earl began talking with some of the other veterans, and before long, Earl had so many men going to the Thursday night rap session that he had to use the church van.

Because of the rules about separation of church and state, the hospital staff could not mandate what Earl was doing, but they did put up a list to allow anyone the opportunity of going to church with him. No one could deny the effect it had on the men. Their recovery rate was rising dramatically. Eventually, permission was granted for a Tuesday night Bible study, which grew at an astounding rate. Men came from other parts of the hospital, filling the room to capacity. Then, it was arranged for Earl to be under the Chaplain Services, and the Bible study was moved to the chapel, which has a capacity of about 300 people.

Presently, the Bible study meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month. There is music, a testimony, and a short Bible lesson taught by someone from Victory for Veterans. On alternate Tuesdays, some of the men gather in another area of the hospital for what they call "Straight Talk," where personal testimonies are shared.

Earl and other volunteers still take vets to church on Sunday and Thursday nights. There are additional planned activities for the veterans as well. On the last Friday night of the month, for example, sponsors (members from the church), bring veterans out of the hospital for a dinner. The idea behind this dinner is to give these veterans a chance to get out, have a nice meal, and socialize. Hopefully, they will see that Christians are just normal folks who like to have fun like anybody else, able to do it without drugs. There is generally a short testimony, live entertainment, and plenty of good food. May’s dinner was attended by twenty veterans from the hospital. Twelve of them received Christ.

Victory for Veterans has existed as a ministry for about ten years, and is still growing. Now, in addition to the hospital in Brecksville, a team of volunteers also goes to the detox program at Wade Park and the Veterans Home in Sandusky.

This year, Victory for Veterans held their ninth Memorial Day concert and picnic at the VA hospital’s pavilion and picnic area. Decorations were done in red, white and blue. There was live entertainment, including Christian music, and a lot of food donated and cooked by the volunteers. Naturally, the majority of those in attendance were veterans from the hospital. Thanks to advertising by WCRF, a number of Christians also turned out to share one-on-one with these vets. Two bike groups came out--The King’s Kids and The Righteous Riders from Akron. And there was also an antique auto show. In all, over 1,000 people attended. For this event, Earl was volunteering under the Recreation Service program; therefore, there could be no preaching. Still, fifty two people received Christ.

Dolores Rollyson, Earl’s lovely wife, shares her husband’s enthusiasm. Although she is busy with young children at home, she helps Earl as much as possible, frequently doing behind-the-scenes work. Together, Earl and Dolores seem to be quite a team.

Victory for Veterans is recognized as a nonprofit organization, funded primarily by private donations. It is also United Way approved. There is a board of directors, comprised of businessmen (also veterans), and Earl points out they represent more than one church.

Earl sums it all up this way: "I could not conceive of going through life like a cat stuck to a screen door, wanting to do drugs, wanting to take narcotics into my body, and not being able to. I didn’t want to live like that. Christ came into the picture, and I didn’t have to. He changed the desire from within." And Earl’s vision is to share this with as many veterans as he can.

Whatever trap they may be caught in, Jesus is the one to set them free.

"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

1 Cor 15:57 (NIV)