Smithtown Woman Strives To Inspire Fellow Veterans Who Have PTSD

SMITHTOWN, NY — “‘Gratitude is my attitude.'”

Those have become words to live by for Mary Flatley, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, who discovered the phrase in one of the many self-help books she has read.

Flatley, 54, of Smithtown, served as an administration clerk before her honorable discharge in 1990. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the Northport Veterans Affairs Hospital. While Flatley has had her struggles in life, working a variety of jobs because of her disability de ella, she has found joy as a poet, volunteer, and caretaker to her 91-year-old mother.

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In life and in poetry, Flatley has focused on the good in her life.

“I’m grateful that I’m not a homeless veteran, that I have a roof over my head, that I have a car, that I have my mom,” Flatley told Patch.

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Her goal is to take what she’s grateful for in life and use it to inspire fellow veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

“I want veterans to know there’s a lot of hope out there,” Flatley said. “Even with a diagnosis of PTSD, you can achieve something. There’s hope. You don’t have to be in despair. There are great days ahead of you.”

Flatley has been writing poems since 1997. She has had a poem published in the Corona Anthology, a compilation of poems centered around the coronavirus pandemic. Another one of her poems by her was published in December in the online Long Island quarterly edited by George Wallace, a writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace.

Flatley wants to compile more of her poetry with the help of Cynthia Shores, the executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace.

“When I put my poems together, I just typed it up and put them together. I didn’t have a copyright or publishing house or anything like that. The next time I do this, it’s going to be professional,” Flatley said with an excited laugh.

She described her poetry as “optimistic, straightforward, and conversationalist.”

Flatley majored in liberal arts at SUNY Purchase and is a philosophy minor. Her poetry by her reflects her by her minor of choice.

“My poetry is deep, philosophical, and about self-worth.”

Her goal is to put together 15 to 20 poems in a formal collection by the end of the year or early 2023. Flatley also hopes to write a memoir, but she has yet to start it in earnest.

Flatley worked at the Walt Whitman Birthplace from 2003 to 2008 and has been volunteering there ever since. She also volunteers as a poetry reader at Whisper Woods of Smithtown, an assisted living facility her mother had spent seven months in before being moved. She has also volunteered at the Huntington Senior Center.

She also wants to get more involved with the American Legion; she belongs to the Greenlawn Post 1244 chapter. Flatley has been making check-up calls to the veterans in her post from Ella to see how they are doing with the stress of the pandemic and everything else. One day, Flatley said, she would like to become a chaplain.

Most importantly, Flatley wants to continue taking care of her mom. She admitted it has been stressful, as she never married or had children.

“It’s been just me and my mom all these years.”

Flatley has been spending more time with her friends, she said while gazing at a lake from the recliner in her apartment.

Flatley, a 1984 graduate of Half Hollow Hills High School East who lived in Dix Hills for 45 years, is set to be one of 30 female veterans honored at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Oct. 15. Women of different eras of service are slated to receive honors from the Long Island Airforce Association.

Flatley is also a client of Long Island Cares, a food bank that helps those struggling with hunger and food insecurity. Grateful to the food bank for helping veterans, Flatley chose to become a donor to the organization, according to Long Island Cares.

She learned about Long Island Cares’s VetsWork program a few years ago when she needed help drafting a resume and visited the organization’s satellite office in Huntington Station.

Fern Summer, a veteran life skills specialist and advocate, took notice of Flatley’s desire to volunteer her time.

“Mary was not looking for paid work, but for something to do,” Summer said in a statement. “She was caring for her mother and felt she did not have the time to both work full-time and be a caregiver. In the intervening years, Mary has done extensive volunteer work and gained a lot of experience and confidence. Mary is a perfect example of success not being defined by money but by joy in life.”

Flatley has since used her positive outlook to try to act as a beacon for other veterans who are struggling with PTSD.

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