PTSD and Homeless Veterans

In the Marines, we learned to never leave the wounded or dead behind.

I have lived with the symptoms of PTSD for forty-six years. I was fortunate. I was capable of holding down a job. I haven’t forgotten the homeless veteran I met in an alley early one early morning in Pasadena, California. I wrote about it in A Prisoner of War for Life.

The key is to learn how to cope. If you have PTSD, you will never get rid of it as if it were a cold or the flu. PTSD stays with you for life.

USA Today reported, “War might be making young bodies old. … The tragic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or battlefield concussion are all too evident. Even more alarming for researchers is emerging evidence that these newest American combat veterans — former GIs and Marines in their 20s and 30s — appear to be growing old before their time. Scientists see early signs of heart disease and diabetes, slowed metabolisms and obesity — maladies more common to middle age or later.”

Some veterans are so damaged from combat experience, that they become homeless.

The population of the United States is more than 314 million people. The US Armed Forces that protects America’s civilians numbers 1.458 million—less than one-half-of-one-percent of the total US population. In addition, there are about 860 thousand military reservists.

In fact, the number of military veterans in the United States in 2012 was 21.8 million—6.94% of the total US population.

It doesn’t matter the reason a US citizen joins the military—patriotism or a financial need—and fights in one of America’s foreign wars. The fact that he or she served and put his or her life on the line or risked serious injury in combat,  I think that the ninety-three percent of the population that never served and risked life and limb owes those veterans an obligation.

That also means supporting homeless veterans with jobs and shelter.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness says, “The nation’s homeless population … went from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 in 2011. … The only increase was among those unsheltered.”

However, “The national rate of homelessness was 21 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population. The rate for veterans was 31 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population.”


PBS Documentary on Homeless Veterans – WORTH WATCHING if you have the time.

The Veterans Administration is the only federal agency that provides substantial hand-on assistance directly to Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Veteran homelessness is a problem of national importance. According to a count on a January night in 2011, there were 67,495 homeless Veterans. And an estimated 144,842 Veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program in a recent year. Because of this, in 2009, President Obama and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the federal government’s goal to end Veteran homelessness by 2015.

An estimated 144,842 Veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program in one recent year.

Many other Veterans are considered at risk of homelessness because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends, substance use or mental health issues, and precarious living conditions.

The VA has a hot line to support veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. That number is: 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-4243-838) Source: VA.gov/Homeless

In recent months, I have been editing a novel about PTSD and homeless veterans.  It isn’t my work. It was written by Alon Shalev, the author of  The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale.  His next novel is titled, Unwanted Heroes (to be published soon). It’s a story about healing and/or the failure to heal from PTSD. A love story is part of the mix too.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

Low-Def Kindle Cover December 11His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

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A Prisoner of War for Life

It was still dark when I reached Dr. Vessey’s house in Pasadena.  It was late 1999 or early 2000. As sunlight leaked over the horizon, we drove to an alley behind a liquor store where the good doctor was going to meet with some homeless people he’d been helping. One of the homeless people was a Vietnam veteran who wouldn’t let the doctor near him. That’s why I was along—to gain the man’s trust.

I was about to find out how bad combat induced PTSD could be when the VA considers a veteran is 100% disabled. Since the vet I was going to meet couldn’t be trusted to handle his VA disability check, his payments went to a pastor, who was his financial guardian. The pastor decided how much to give him when he came to the church asking for money. The VA disability was enough to rent a studio apartment, but this vet chose to live on the streets where he felt safer. His home was under a blue tarp hidden in some thick brush that lined the side of an empty lot. Later, the doctor drove me there so I could see it.

This vet’s story of abuse was inhuman and tragic. He was a chopper pilot in Vietnam and was shot down becoming a POW where, among other things, he was sexually molested by the Vietnamese guards. I’m not sure I would have survived what he went through.

Dr. Vessey and I arrived first. We parked the car and entered the alley to wait. The homeless people started to arrive one or two at a time until there were about a dozen.  One even crawled out of the Dumpster behind the liquor store. The vet along with two women arrived last. We squatted in the alley and talked. I told the disabled vet my Vietnam story, and he said it was obvious that I’d been there.  Then he opened up and told us his story.

Before he finished, a helicopter (media or police—I’m not sure) flew over, and the vet surprised us when he yelled, “Incoming,” and leaped to his feet running toward what he thought must have been a bunker and safety—the back, brick wall of the liquor store. He ran into the wall and the sound of his body hitting the bricks was a sickening thud as if he were a side of beef being hit by a sledgehammer. He bounced off the wall and collapsed unconscious.  We rushed to him and gathered around. One of the homeless women cradled his injured head in her lap. There was a thick, swollen contusion on his forehead.

He had hit that wall hard enough to rattle the shelved bottles inside, and two men working in the liquor store came around the corner a moment later. They thought a car had hit the store.

This vet would always be a prisoner of war.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award winning author.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

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