I recently had the opportunity to talk with a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp. The story he told me left me haunted and disturbed. It also left me determined to find a way to help homeless and disabled vets.
The man I talked to joined the Marine Corp when he was 19 years old. He is extremely intelligent and ended up in a highly technical job with the Corp. He hoped to make the military his career. Unfortunately, after 10 years of service, his life, and all his hopes and dreams, changed forever in an instant.
He was in the Middle East, traveling in a vehicle with nine other soldiers, when an explosion hit. Eight of the 10 died instantly. He and one other man were severely injured. He received a medical discharge from the Marine Corp.
He returned to the States, where he spent a long time in a hospital, learning to walk again. He suffered chronic severe pain, and continues to suffer now, 20 years later. He was also plagued by nightmares and flashbacks of the explosion that killed eight of his friends. He felt guilty for surviving when they died.
Twenty years later, he choked up telling me about it. He still thinks of it every day. He still has nightmares. He still cries about it.
Because of his physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, he was unable to work. He applied for disability but the Veterans Administration took 15 years to finally declare him disabled. Fifteen years. For part of that time, he was homeless, living on the street.
It would be a terrible experience for anyone to live on the street, but I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him. He lives in a Midwestern city, with cold winters. Imagine sleeping in a doorway, on the cold concrete, in the middle of winter, with chronic pain, barely able to walk. Imagine finally drifting off the sleep, only to waken from a nightmare of an explosion that killed eight of your friends and nearly killed you, too.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, approximately 62,000 vets will sleep on the street tonight. Many of them are disabled, in many cases by injuries received in the line of duty. This seems terribly wrong to me, so I decided to find out what I could do to help.
Shop at a Volunteers of America Thrift Store
Shop at a Volunteers of America thrift store if there is one in your area. Volunteers of America offers a number of programs to help homeless vets get back on their feet and purchases made in their thrift stores help fund those programs.
Donate Used Items to a Volunteers of America Thrift Store
Donate gently used clothing and household goods to a Volunteers of America thrift store if there is one in your area. Sales will help fund programs to help homeless vets.
Check out Your Local Goodwill Industries
If there is no Volunteers of America near you, check out the nearest Goodwill Industries. In some areas, Goodwill offers programs to help homeless and disabled vets. If this is the case in your area, shop at Goodwill thrift stores and donate gently used items there to support these programs.
Volunteer at a Veterans Administration Hospital
Check with the nearest Veterans Administration hospital to find out about volunteer opportunities. In many areas, they have special programs to help homeless vets access healthcare services. Other volunteer opportunities may include driving vets to medical appointments, phoning vets to remind them of upcoming appointments, working at a hospital information desk, delivering mail and flowers to hospitalized vets, and visiting vets in the hospital. You can volunteer just a couple hours a month and make a difference in someone’s life.
Donate to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans provides a number of services for homeless vets, including a toll-free Homeless Veteran Help Line (800-VET-HELP). You can donate by mail (send donations to National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 333 ½ Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003-1148), by phone (call 800-838-4357) or online and just a few dollars will help.
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans