|LEEDS, Mass. — Peter Mohan traces the path from the Iraqi battlefield to this lifeless conference room, where he sits in a kilt and a Camp Kill Yourself T-shirt and calmly describes how he became a sad cliche: a homeless veteran.|
There was a happy homecoming, but then an accident _ car crash, broken collarbone. And then a move east, close to his wife's new job but away from his best friends.
And then self-destruction: He would gun his motorcycle to 100 mph and try to stand on the seat. He would wait for his wife to leave in the morning, draw the blinds and open up whatever bottle of booze was closest.
He would pull out his gun, a .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol. He would lovingly clean it, or just look at it and put it away. Sometimes place it in his mouth.
"I don't know what to do anymore," his wife, Anna, told him one day. "You can't be here anymore."
Peter Mohan never did find a steady job after he left Iraq. He lost his wife _ a judge granted their divorce this fall _ and he lost his friends and he lost his home, and now he is here, in a shelter.
He is 28 years old. "People come back from war different," he offers by way of a summary.
This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.
But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.
And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?
What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?
PLEASE READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT THE LINK ABOVE.
Why are mentally ill Veterans still being discarded to the trash heap of life? Constanly left to fend for themselves! Yes, they knew what to do in war or in a military environment but being home, after the ordeal they went through, there is no training for that. Invariably, the sick troop is expected to know what's best or where to turn for help... basically, continually told to "buck up"!
I think it's time the military starts a new mandatory program before a soldier gets out, especially a potentially mentally ill soldier, "How to transition back to civilian life!" It would be the last course a soldier takes in their military career. The Pentagon forgets that most young soldiers know nothing else but the military. They were looking at the military as a stepping stone, not being dropped off a cliff.
I know our government has not learned anything from Vietnam with regards to Veteran's care. But some caring individuals have... and it could lead to increased government awareness:
|Soldier On is staffed entirely by homeless veterans. A handful who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, usually six or seven at a time, mix with dozens from Vietnam. Its president, Jack Downing, has spent nearly four decades working with addicts, the homeless and the mentally ill.|
Next spring, he plans to open a limited-equity cooperative in the western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield. Formerly homeless veterans will live there, with half their rents going into individual deposit accounts.
Downing is convinced that ushering homeless veterans back into homeownership is the best way out of the pattern of homelessness that has repeated itself in an endless loop, war after war.
"It's a disgrace," Downing says. "You have served your country, you get damaged, and you come back and we don't take care of you. And we make you prove that you need our services."
"And how do you prove it?" he continues, voice rising in anger. "You prove it by regularly failing until you end up in a system where you're identified as a person in crisis. That has shocked me."
Even as the nation gains a much better understanding of the types of post-traumatic stress disorders suffered by so many thousands of veterans _ even as it learns the lessons of Vietnam and tries to learn the lessons of Iraq _ it is probably impossible to foretell a day when young American men and women come home from wars unscarred.
At least as long as there are wars.
But Driscoll, at least, sees an opportunity to do much better.
He notes that the VA now has more than 200 veteran adjustment centers to help ease the transition back into society, and the existence of more than 900 VA-connected community clinics nationwide.
"We're hopeful that five years down the road, you're not going to see the same problems you saw after the Vietnam War," he says. "If we as a nation do the right thing by these guys."