Imagine this. A twenty-year-old service member deployed to a hostile foreign base. Fighting in a ferocious gun battle and being revered a hero by the military. Upon his return to the stateside installation, he is rewarded with a medal, lots of alcohol, and proud stories recollecting his brave feat. He physically survived the war but was mentally destroyed by the trauma he faced. Every day he reported to duty, did his job, and returned home alone. His wife left with his children, as he suffered in silence. His new companion was his vice. The dependence on alcohol and antidepressants concealed his mental wounds and PTSD, but only for so long. After completing his time in service, he returned to civilian life.
His struggles intensified as his reintegration didn't go as smoothly as he thought it would. He struggled to find work. When he did find employment, it never lasted long because, civilian life. There were no battle buddies, no NCOs to keep him in line, and no orders for his next steps. He became more hopeless, day after day, month after month until he was that poor vet. Hungry, Homeless Vet, his sign reads as we turn our heads as not to make eye contact. Our thoughts and prayers are with him. But why do our actions not follow? We tend to disassociate ourselves with those who we feel don't align with our current lifestyle, especially homeless individuals. We assume they've done something wrong to be in their current predicament. We believe they are lazy, drug addicts looking for a handout or a quick fix. We feel better mindlessly giving to organizations that advertise to help veterans so we can check off the I gave to charity, box.
Did you know that if a veteran is discharged for less honorable reasons, they are usually disqualified from receiving any VA services, including medical and mental health care? In some instances, like insanity and other extreme cases, exceptions may be made. Female service members have been known to commit a crime or go AWOL, only after suffering some physical or psychological trauma within their units. Thus leading to a less than honorable or dishonorable discharge. When you see a homeless person on the street asking for a buck, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Do you ever stop to think, maybe this person is a hero. He was fighting a war for our country only to return home to fight a war within himself. Have a little compassion for those fighting battles you know nothing about. Organizations like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and Veterans Affairs provide counseling and other resources that will help veterans thrive. Want to know what you can do to give back to those who gave so much? Volunteer at a local shelter or homeless eatery. Collect items like food, hygiene, and clothing and donate them to a local Veterans chapter or organization. Visit the nursing homes when they have an open house. Get to know the veterans and their stories. Let's remember their service before they are gone. Be the extended family member they need. Every veteran has a story. Hear theirs.