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Organization offers a way for veterans to connect, network and stay in shape

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On any given Saturday morning, you can find Jeffrey Tabb teaching a boxing class at Mike Ford Fitness on East 44th Street. Many of Tabb’s students, like him, are disabled veterans. Tabb, a 14-year veteran of the Marine Corps, started boxing during his time in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

Tabb returned to boxing about five years ago after a chance meeting with UFC fighter Chris Lytle. After receiving an honorable discharge in 2004, Tabb faced a brief stint with homelessness and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Boxing, he found, alleviated his symptoms of PTSD and restored his physical health; he lost 40 pounds and reversed his diabetes. Tabb, wanting to help other veterans have the same experience, started Punch For Veterans, a boxing class in partnership with Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, in 2017.

Beyond learning the basics of boxing — accommodated for any physical limitations a veteran may have — participants also can network with other veterans and find resources for employment and counseling. This isn’t Tabb’s only experience with helping veterans — he’s served as the disabled veteran outreach program specialist for the city’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD) since 2019. In this role, he helps connect veterans with resources including employment, housing and income assistance.

This latest stage in Tabb’s life, helping veterans overcome barriers, was inspired by his own experiences and the help he received when he returned home.

Enlisting in the Marines in 1991 at the tail end of Operation Desert Storm, Tabb served in Kuwait, Japan and the Mediterranean region. When the Chicago native settled in Indianapolis after his discharge, Tabb said he struggled with the isolation many troops feel upon their return home.

“What creates barriers is the disconnect between what you saw in the military and what you see in the civilian world,” Tabb said.

“We return with PTSD, and we’re always in a state of alert and hypervigilance, and family and friends don’t understand the severity of what we dealt with in the military.”

This isolation is why Tabb values networking among veterans. Being around people with similar life experiences, he said, can help veterans feel more connected to the community around them, and can help them avoid some of the issues many veterans face in life after combat, such as substance abuse and suicide.

Resources for veterans
If you’re a veteran in need of assistance, contact Indy Warrior Partnership at 317-352-5413. If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

According to the Disabled American Veterans organization, roughly 18 veterans died by suicide every day in 2020. Matt Hall, an Army veteran and friend of Tabb’s, brought a local chapter of America’s Warrior Partnership to Indianapolis in an effort to curb veteran suicide and provide those who’ve served with needed medical, employment and financial resources. Punch For Veterans, Hall said, is just one example of the work being done in the state to benefit veterans.

“Our community does so much and respects veterans with such high regard,” Hall said. “We do a great job with patriotism in Indiana, and there’s a lot of organizations with big hearts that are helping veterans overcome barriers.”

Throughout his time in the Marines, Tabb said he learned discipline, honor and commitment to the United States. While he still carries these values today, he said he’s still learning from working with other veterans.

“I’ve learned a lot through the program,” Tabb said. “I’m learning different skills that they all bring to the table, and I’ve learned the importance of companionship, and I admire everyone’s desire to help other veterans.”

To take a class through Punch For Veterans, visit Eventbrite.com. Classes are free for veterans and $5 for community members.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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