Skip to comments.Why Does Johnny Come Marching Homeless?
Posted on 01/19/2008 11:50:02 AM PST by Responsibility2nd
LEEDS, Mass. (AP) - 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 accidentcar 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 wifea judge granted their divorce this falland 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?
For as long as the United States has sent its young menand later its young womenoff to war, it has watched as a segment of them come home and lose the battle with their own memories, their own scars, and wind up without homes.
The Civil War produced thousands of wandering veterans. Frequently addicted to morphine, they were known as "tramps," searching for jobs and, in many cases, literally still tending their wounds.
More than a decade after the end of World War I, the "Bonus Army" descended on Washingtondemanding immediate payment on benefits that had been promised to them, but payable years laterand were routed by the U.S. military.
And, most publicly and perhaps most painfully, there was Vietnam: Tens of thousands of war-weary veterans, infamously rejected or forgotten by many of their own fellow citizens.
Now it is happening again, in small but growing numbers.
For now, about 1,500 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 400 of them have taken part in VA programs designed to target homelessness.
The 1,500 are a small, young segment of an estimated 336,000 veterans in the United States who were homeless at some point in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Still, advocates for homeless veterans use words like "surge" and "onslaught" and even "tsunami" to describe what could happen in the coming years, as both wars continue and thousands of veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress.
People who have studied postwar trauma say there is always a lengthy gap between coming homethe time of parades and backslaps and "The Boys Are Back in Town" on the local FM stationand the moments of utter darkness that leave some of them homeless.
In that time, usually a period of years, some veterans focus on the horrors they saw on the battlefield, or the friends they lost, or why on earth they themselves deserved to come home at all. They self- medicate, develop addictions, spiral down.
Howor perhaps the better question is whyis this happening again?
"I really wish I could answer that question," says Anthony Belcher, an outreach supervisor at New Directions, which conducts monthly sweeps of Skid Row in Los Angeles, identifying homeless veterans and trying to help them get over addictions.
"It's the same question I've been asking myself and everyone around me. I'm like, wait, wait, hold it, we did this before. I don't know how our society can allow this to happen again."
Mental illness, financial troubles and difficulty in finding affordable housing are generally accepted as the three primary causes of homelessness among veterans, and in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the first has raised particular concern.
Iraq veterans are less likely to have substance abuse problems but more likely to suffer mental illness, particularly post-traumatic stress, according to the Veterans Administration. And that stress by itself can trigger substance abuse.
Some advocates say there are also some factors particular to the Iraq war, like multiple deployments and the proliferation of improvised explosive devices, that could be pulling an early trigger on stress disorders that can lead to homelessness.
While many Vietnam veterans began showing manifestations of stress disorders roughly 10 years after returning from the front, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown the signs much earlier.
That could also be because stress disorders are much better understood now than they were a generation ago, advocates say.
"There's something about going back, and a third and a fourth time, that really aggravates that level of stress," said Michael Blecker, executive director of Swords to Plowshares," a San Francisco homeless- vet outreach program.
"And being in a situation where you have these IEDs, everywhere's a combat zone. There's no really safe zone there. I think that all is just a stew for post-traumatic stress disorder."
Others point to something more difficult to define, something about American culture thatwhile celebrating and honoring troops in a very real way upon their homecomingultimately forgets them.
This is not necessarily due to deliberate negligence. Perhaps because of the lingering memory of Vietnam, when troops returned from an unpopular war to face open hostility, many Americans have taken care to express support for the troops even as they solidly disapprove of the war in Iraq.
But it remains easy for veterans home from Iraq for several years, and teetering on the edge of losing a job or home, to slip into the shadows. And as their troubles mount, they often feel increasingly alienated from friends and family members.
"War changes people," says John Driscoll, vice president for operations and programs at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "Your trust in people is strained. You've been separated from loved ones and friends. The camaraderie between troops is very extreme, and now you feel vulnerable."
The VA spends about $265 million annually on programs targeting homeless veterans. And as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face problems, the VA will not simply "wait for 10 years until they show up," Pete Dougherty, the VA's director of homeless programs, said when the new figures were released.
"We're out there now trying to get everybody we can to get those kinds of services today, so we avoid this kind of problem in the future," he said.
These are all problems defined in broad strokes, but they cascade in very real and acute ways in the lives of individual veterans.
Take Mike Lally. He thinks back now to the long stretches in the stifling Iraq heat, nothing to do but play Spades and count flies, and about the day insurgents killed the friendly shop owner who sold his battalion Pringles and candy bars.
He thinks about crouching in the back of a Humvee watching bullets crash into fuel tanks during his first firefight, and about waiting back at base for the vodka his mother sent him, dyed blue and concealed in bottles of Scope mouthwash.
It was a little maddening, he supposes, every piece of it, but Lally is fairly sure that what finally cracked him was the bodies. Unloading the dead from ambulances and loading them onto helicopters. That was his job.
"I guess I loaded at least 20," he says. "Always a couple at a time. And you knew who it was. You always knew who it was."
It was in 2004, when he came back from his second tour in Iraq with the Marine Corps, that his own bumpy ride down began.
He would wake up at night, sweating and screaming, and during the days he imagined people in the shadowsa state the professionals call hypervigilence and Mike Lally calls "being on high alert, all the time."
His father-in-law tossed him a job installing vinyl siding, but the stress overcame him, and Lally began to drink. A little rum in his morning coffee at first, and before he knew it he was drunk on the job, and then had no job at all.
And now Mike Lally, still only 26 years old, is here, booted out of his house by his wife, padding around in an old T-shirt and sweats at a Leeds shelter called Soldier On, trying to get sober and perhaps, on a day he can envision but not yet grasp, get his home and family and life back.
"I was trying to live every day in a fog," he says, reflecting between spits of tobacco juice. "I'd think I was back in there, see people popping out of windows. Any loud noise would set me off. It still does."
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 veteranseven as it learns the lessons of Vietnam and tries to learn the lessons of Iraqit 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."
I believe it takes a man of strong moral character who is willing to face deadly risks.
And if his momma and daddy failed to raise him right.... his chances ain't so good.
Oh, I think it’s far more than that. That’s too easy an out.
I won’t say that the parents of these soldiers didn’t “raise them right.” If they hadn’t, would the men have joined the military? Surely for their sacrifice we owe them more than libel against their families.
We ask these men to live with incredible stress for months on end, perform terrible acts, then when they come home after a job well done, we abandon them. Is it any wonder that some have problems adjusting to civilian life?
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION
TROOPS TO TEACHERS
Hire A Hero (Ollie North)
OK, the lib media wins. Let’s just disband the Armed Forces.
No more homeless people, no more murders, no more drug problems, no more substandard VA hospitals, no more United States of America.
Nobody comes back from war the same as before they went. Those who adjust the best simply put the past behind them and refuse to think about it. As some wiser person once put it, the chasm between war and normal life is wider than the Grand Canyon, and not to be crossed. I interpret that to mean that one should leave the war with the war, and not take it home with you. Probably no one is capable of doing that 100% of the time, but those who adjust best do it more than others.
Yup. Here we go again. Just like after Vietnam.
Don’t worry. It will all disappear just as soon as a Rat rolls into the White House. Until the next GOP president....
Some join to get away from a toxic family.
I don’t know, but when your Mom sends you vodka in Scope bottles....
I’m just saying.
I tend to be leery of press accounts. Are these people actually veterans - or simply people looking for a handout? The fact is that you can get better treatment if you claim to be a veteran, whether you are one or not. A veteran speaks out:
In recent years, I have been approached on the street by those claiming to be homeless veterans. I questioned all and not even one ever appeared legit.
With the exception of that feminist Gloria at her friend Janes press conference, these were the only people who became hostile when challenged. I look at John Kerry and his cohorts from the VVAW and I see the birthplace of the poor Vietnam Veteran myth in the publics eye. Millions of honorable veterans and the media tries to make that ragtag bunch of bums into us? Not on my watch, Dan and Walter. Those are your veterans, not mine! They are the genesis of every bad impression of Vietnam Veterans. They started the myth, along with the media left, that we were all dope addicts and most of us ended up in prison. It was this crew of real and imaginary veterans, along with the left handed media who hate the military, which created the myth of the whining veteran and they are doing their best to do it to a new generation of American warriors. They had no military pride in their day and have not one ounce of national pride today. They are not us and never were.
We veterans have made our voices heard on everything from POWs left behind to the terrible consequences from the use of chemicals in our war. We kept John Kerry and his VVAW band of brothers out of the White House. But, even the VA seems intent on tagging us, rather than treating us. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become almost a buzz word for veterans of any war. I do not begrudge anyone treatment, but I am offended by the myth that none of us could cope with the rigors of combat and its aftermath. As a former POW, the first words out of the VA Reps mouth were Of course, you will get compensated for PTSD. My response? Just rate me on the bullets and shrapnel. I want them to treat that quiet vet in the corner, who never whines, but dreams terrible things at night. Then I want them to go down to the shopping mall and snatch up that camouflage-wearing goon, bothering the old ladies and find out if he ever actually went to war.
O’Reilly this week pretty much exposed these stories as fraud along with the stories that Iraq War veterans were in high number coming back to America and committing murders. Not true. Most homeless people are that way due to addictions to alcohol or drugs.
LIFE is TOUGH.....and some people choose to handle it better than others....I would imagine a strong faith and the support of a Church family would help.....
The numbers don’t add up - 336,000 veterans are supposedly homeless, according to career homeless advocates. How did they identify these people as veterans? Let’s say 500,000 troops have cycled through Iraq. Is it reasonable to say the 336,000 of these troops is homeless, considering that perhaps half of them are still serving? These numbers are nuts.
This is so much crap. I saw CNN do a story on homeless vets, and the vet they interviewed was one that had been kicked out of my unit (after a court-martial) for beating his wife on more than one ocassion. He never left the states, and got an other than honorable discharge.
I’ll bet the number of honorably discharged veterans in homeless shelters is next to zero.
I think its fair to say we could do a whole lot better in our treatment of veterans. I don’t give a crap who is in the White House. “Thanks for you service, now shut up and go away” doesn’t quite cut it.
I’ll allow as how there probably are some genuine vets who genuinely get in a bad place. That said, I have the gut feeling that there are a lot more homeless people saying they’re vets than there are actual homeless vets.
These estimates of homeless vets we've been hearing from years from the homeless advocacy industry are completely made-up numbers. The stories we are seeing now and saw so often after the Vietnam War are always long, anecdotal descriptions of a few individuals supported by wildly inflated estimates of homelessness by a homeless advocacy organization.
During the Reagan years, homeless advocates claimed that two to three million Americans were homeless - one in every 100 people.
For a thorough debunking of the homeless Vietnam Vet myth, see B.J. Burkett's book "Stolen Valor" chapter 14, "An Army on the Streets." He found that homeless advocates and the MSM vastly overestimated the number of homeless veterans on the basis of no hard evidence, and that in reality the more rigorous studies found that Vietnam vets had a LOWER unemployment rate than their peers who didn't serve in the military, making them LESS likely to be homeless. Burkett documents the point that many of the homeless who claimed to be veterans in fact were not, and that homeless advocates do not check the military records of these often mentally-ill people to see if they really are veterans.
The MSM's tried-and-true template of the crazy, alcoholic, homeless veteran.
Thank you both for crunching the numbers.
But you must be mistaken. Surely the MSM would not overstate and manipulate the facts now whoule they?
Good seeing heavy skepticism in this thread...
your analysis is spot on....
“the chasm between war and normal life is wider than the Grand Canyon, and not to be crossed. I interpret that to mean that one should leave the war with the war, and not take it home with you.”
the chasm between your job and normal life is wider than the Grand Canyon, and not to be crossed. I interpret that to mean that one should leave your job at work, and not take it home with you.
Both cases will make for a much more pleasant ‘family life’, if family life is what is most important to you. Conversely, failed families sometimes can point back to the inability to leave those ‘situations’ behind when exiting one world and entering another. Having ‘tried both and got the t-shirt’, it’s not clear to me which is easier...doing it every day (work) or all at once (war).
Now for my 2 cents.....I maintain that I woulda been a lot happier without Walter Cronkite/Dan Rather’s 2 cents! And the author sure sounds a lot like Dan Rather to me....just sayin’.
Actually the author was Scott Turow.
It’s the individual, no one else. Many with the same background, have experienced the same without the problems, or at least they aren’t debilitated by them. They get on with life.
“there are a lot more homeless people saying theyre vets than there are actual homeless vets” peopling homeless shelters. brilliant, worth repeating, often.
I thought the same thing.
I have often wondered if WWII is what made my Father in Law the A***ole he is....or if he was just raised/born that way....I really don’t know, but he ruined family life for my husband and his sister, that’s for sure.
oops....meant the author of the article, but thanks for the source...
I saw this movie once.....what was it called...Rambo?
Me mum works at Veterans Services...there is room for improvement...depsite these bogus stories MSM keeps throwing out there...
Great post. May God bless you for your understanding heart.
Boo hoo. Ya’ll a bunch of hopeless losers, made that way by Uncle Sam, so sayeth the MSM.
Of course I am now an all knowing journalist.
Which branches/battles did you fight in? How many firefights? How many of your buddies did you lug, dead, back to base? How many did you see get blown to bits?
I realize I'm assuming you were in the heat of many battles without knowing if you were or not - but by your post, you obviously have extensive first hand experience in order to be so knowledgeable on how one should be able to cope solely on their own character rather than what and/or how long they experienced untold horrors
We may know better here but I guarantee that on Monday I'll hear some lib at work talking about how the President lied us into war and now multitudes of homeless, psychotic veterans are wandering our streets.
Im just saying.
A lot of those who end up the stereotypical burnt out vet were damaged before they went.
I'll risk getting flamed by saying this but most of those homeless Viet Nam vets either never served or, if they served, never left the CONUS. Read "Stolen Valor" by Burkett.
Anyone who served in a war zone must be granted every tool available to help them heal. They earned it. Still they must do everything in their own power to help themselves.
And anyone who smears our Warriors should be tarred and feathered.
That sure rings a bell! And it an embarrassment and a tragedy, but not an excuse. I went into the Army in 1969, on January of 1970 i found myself about 25 km WSW of Hue on the southern end of a scenic and quiet little valley called the A Shau. A wonderful little place on top of a little hill called FSB Bastogne. Never a dull moment! If we wasn't ducking sniper fire, we were on our belly's sweating mortars and at time RPG's. In between those little delays we're pounding the north end of the A Shau with our 175's. 11 months latter myself and another crew member on my gun, receives an early out from an NVA mortar.
I told that story for a reason. I’ve never seen a group of men under more stress and down right fear in my life. Did some of them come home a little dazed and confused? You damn right we did. Did some go a little crazy? There were a few. But i have to say they were pretty damn crazy by the time they got there. Personally i have to say those days made dealing with todays day to day stress, a piece of cake. Those that blame their inabilities to deal with day to day stress on war, are just using it for a crutch.
I'm sure there are those that will disagree with me but those are my feeling about this subject.
Company D, 1st Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
I’d be curious to see some solid information about the general population of homeless men, and what percentage of them is a veteran of the Iraq War. My guess is that we’d find that it was similar to the numbers ignored by the NY Times in their story about the violence and brutality among Iraq/Afghanistan Vets. The Old Grey Lady made it sound like MOST of the men who have served have come back and gotten involved in violence in when their numbers are about 1.5% of the total number of men having served, and the total number of men involved in violent acts in this country in general are about 5% of the total number of men.
I went in crazy as a s#!thouse rat and came out crazier than a cat trying to cover s#!t on a marble floor. Nuthin the VA coulda dun for me then or now.
We have a veteran's hospital about 400 yards from my office, so I pretty much see the day to day traffic going in and coming out. My brother in-law was one of the Directors before he retired, My sister was over admits. Between my observations and their conversations with me, it seems their #1 problems is dealing with alcoholics and addicts, with most having never seen combat and many having never completing a full tour. It seems there are many who just travel from VA to VA living on what little disability they’ve managed to con the GOV out of and whatever drugs they can con the VA out of. They’ll stand on a corner and beg for money and then immediately run to the closest liquor store for a cheap bottle. Then they’ll go back under the overpass and drink until they pass out or their back up on the road begging for more. I’ve seen more of this than any man should ever have to. I spent 30 years with the Sheriffs office and daily we checked the overpass’s. I’ve seen as many as 43 men and women all living under the same overpass thats just about 800 yards from the VA. The majority of the people i seen and ID’s never spent more than 1 year in service and had receive various types of medical discharges.
These are the vets that the left will count when producing their numbers, but in my opinion these are not the real vets that counts.
Once again i’m sure there will be those that disagree with me. But this is my opinion.
Enough to see others and to learn about myself, that’s all I base my comment on.
Maybe the Dems can trot this guy -- or some other fictional poster boy -- out at the convention. It would be great if he was blind, homosexual, and in a wheelchair too. Drag a dollar bill through the union hall and see what you come up with!
Glad ya made it back! Welcome Home Brother!
Did you know we have, or are you a member of the 101st Association? We're all meeting up in Reno this coming summer... ALL of us! WW2 through Iraq! Email me if your curious...
So your empirical judgment on how individuals who have been to hell and back should all be able to suck it up is based on observation of others?
In addition, you deem yourself immune to residual effects from war, better than those who have fallen into depression from experiences few will ever talk about?
If so - that's just opinion = not worth spit.
When you spend, say, 15 months perched on a tiny cliff you have pickaxed out of mountainside in the high mountains/valleys of "Taliban Central', isolated from the nearest PX/town by impassable miles of mined roads, no running water, no power, no escape now from the 24/7 bitter cold - and, oh, yeah - have already been in over 1,000 firefights with the Taliban, including hand to hand - and have another 6 months to go - you have watched several of your buddies killed/wounded, carried their bodies for hours back over goat paths to the outpost - etc etc -
I'll listen to your judgment on our troops
Anyone who judges them without having been there at each and every side - is an
He seems to be a very popular subject:
As Mohan has struggled, traveling far and wide to find help for husband, Peter, a soldier wounded in Iraq, her faith and her faithful old car have been about all she could rely on.
Certainly, for the longest time, she couldn’t rely on the VA.
The couple’s journey together has taken them from the cornfields of rural North Carolina to the hill towns of Western Massachusetts, where Peter Mohan, 27, finally got the care he needed. His was a classic case of a veteran who found himself desperate for VA services, but living far from a VA healthcare center and feeling lost in the agency’s bureaucratic thicket.
Soldier On is not a veterans’ organization.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Jan. 9, 2008
The writer is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in North Adams.
“Vets left out of the party”
The North Adams Transcript Online - Letters
Friday, November 9, 2007
I write to my fellow citizens, and especially my fellow veterans, in Berkshire County.
If you’re like me, I guess your invitation was misplaced for the big Senator John Kerry / Jack Downing Show last week.
I’m just a regular veteran doing some volunteering to help my community, stuff like that, just like you. If I could have found my invitation to the Senator John Kerry/ Jack Downing party, I would have had one question for the two of them: Where is the Outreach Center money, which was budgeted at $80,000 a year?
You see, we had a really good Outreach Center on North Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The center had been in Pittsfield for 19 years. The money went to Downing’s UVA (United Veterans of America) three years ago, and we have seen no money or services since.
The United Veterans of America is not a veterans organization, and Jack Downing is not a veteran.
Maybe we will get invited next year.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Nov. 7, 2007
The writer is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 54.
And you too Sir!
[Did you know we have, or are you a member of the 101st Association?]
No Sir i’m not, but i know who they are, and i take great pride in each and everyone of them. I’ve chose to leave parts of my life behind, for reasons of my own choosing. I’ve shed many tears in my life and for some reason, this thread brought back some old ones. If i can’t handle this, i know how i’d be around some of the most respected and Heroic men i’ve ever met in my life.
I have the same experiences as you. This whole thing is a bunch of crap concocted by social workers and media whores. S/F
I have the same experiences as you. This whole thing is a bunch of crap concocted by social workers and media whores. S/F
I knew a sailor from the Pacific War who, after returning to the States, basically camped out on a riverbank in the Southwest for a couple years--panning for gold which he sold to a dental supply company in California. The only other person he ever saw during those years was a Marine who was camped a few miles up stream. Doing the same thing. And that was the way they wanted it.
This man had been raised a good old-fashioned farm boy from Ohio, but nothing prepared him for what he encountered during his tour from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima.
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