Smithtown woman strives to inspire other veterans with PTSD


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

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

Flatley, 54, from Smithtown, was an administrative clerk before her honorable discharge in 1990. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at Northport Veterans Hospital. While Flatley struggled in life, working various jobs due to her disability, she found joy as a poet, volunteer and caretaker for her 91-year-old mother.

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

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

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Her goal is to take what she is grateful for in life and use it to inspire other 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 is hope. You don’t have to be desperate. There are bright days ahead of you.”

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

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

“When I put my poems together I just typed them up and put them together. I had no copyright or publisher or anything like that. Next time I do this it will be professional “Flatley said with an excited laugh.

She described her poetry as “upbeat, direct and conversational”.

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

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

Her goal is to have 15-20 poems in a formal collection by the end of the year or early 2023. Flatley also hopes to write a memoir, but she hasn’t started in earnest yet.

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

She also wishes to become more involved in the American Legion; she belongs to Greenlawn Post Chapter 1244. Flatley has been making check-in calls to veterans of her post to see how they are doing with the stresses of the pandemic and all. One day, Flatley said, she would like to become a chaplain.

More importantly, Flatley wants to continue taking care of his mother. She admitted it was stressful, as she never married or had children.

“It was just me and my mom all those years.”

Flatley has been spending more time with her friends, she said, 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 October 15. Women from 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 heard about Long Island Cares’ VetsWork program a few years ago when she needed help writing a resume and went to the organization’s satellite office in Huntington Station.

Fern Summer, a veteran life skills specialist and lawyer, noticed Flatley’s desire to volunteer.

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

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

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