U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Xiomara Sosa (Courtesy Xiomara Sosa)

Latina Leader: A veteran creates a mental health non-profit for fellow veterans

Xiomara Sosa says she hasn’t talked about her military experience since 9/11, but today, not only is she talking about it, she wants to give back to her fellow veterans.

She is a mental health and physical health counselor who founded XAS Consulting, LLC, as well as the organizations Get-Right! and You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services two years ago. The latter non-profit advocates on behalf of veterans and their families, to fight the negative stigma associated with seeking help for mental health or physical issues, as well as provides basic welfare such as overcoming bullying and PTSD.

“I was always different from my peers,” says Sosa, 49. “Most others wanted to get married and have babies. In those days, you didn’t get encouraged, especially as a Latina in the Bronx.”

After graduating high school, she says she first tried going to community college full-time while working full-time, but it was a struggle economically, so she decided to join the Air Force at age 20. Two years later, in 1986, Sosa says she discovered if you had two years of college, the Army would pay for your last two years.

“So I switched to the Army,” says Sosa, who ended up with a special assignment at the Pentagon working for a four-star general while based at Fort Myers. “When I had that assignment in the Pentagon, it made me understand the connection between the military’s purpose and how it’s connected to humanitarian work. They do a lot of humanitarian work, and we don’t really hear about that.”

Now that she’s older, she’s able to look back and see how all the dots in her life connected. Sosa says her birth parents, who were foster parents to various children growing up, as well as her military experience, bridged her calling to become a humanitarian and a healer.

“It also helped me understand the role that leadership plays,” says the half Puerto Rican, half Dominican with a long line of veterans in her family. “As far as Latinas, and women in general, it wasn’t the norm to be a leader and not follow the crowd. That flourished within me in the military.”

She says the military also taught her how to be successful at positive teamwork and networking in the civilian world.

“In the Hispanic community and women groups, I try to gravitate towards groups that want people to succeed,” says Sosa, who also writes a weekly column on New Latina, explaining she’s learned to not waste her time with groups or people that don’t really want you, or others, to prosper. “You learn that when you are on a flight, it’s about the team and the mission, and that’s how they military is successful. They weed out the people who can’t get that or don’t have the strength of character. If your partner fails, you fail. That mentality has always stayed with me.”

Sosa says she’s learned it’s important to ask for help in your endeavors, as well as give help, and to always be receptive.

“The minute I launched You Are Strong! I realized many veterans have a trust issue with civilians,” says Sosa, who filled that gap. “It’s very rare to have mental health professional who is also a veteran…They were running around without getting help. The Veteran’s Administration was in no way prepared for the mass amount of veterans returning and the mass amount of mental health issues.”

Currently, she says she’s getting certified to help those veterans heal from addiction substance abuse through a program of the Veteran’s Administration, in order to help more veterans coming back home.

“Memorial Day brings home to me how incredibly lucky I am that my life-long love returned from Iraq, period,” says Sosa, whose partner, whom she met years ago in basic training, is a retired Iraq veteran. “Too many others have not been so fortunate. They lost their loved ones to that dreadful war, or to Afghanistan. Memorial Day makes me ever so grateful and appreciative that I did not, and it forces me to not only honor my true love, but to honor those who did not make it back.”

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