This is about hope.
Phil is a Navy veteran I met during a visit to The Gathering Place, a psychosocial clubhouse for individuals who are managing a mental illness. When I introduced myself as a fellow veteran, Phil asked, “What branch of the military?”
I said, “Army.” He said, “Too bad!”
We bonded immediately.
In Phil’s case, three separate aneurysms followed by depression tore his life apart. The physical damage erased his personality and played havoc with his memory. Over time he lost his white collar job, his home and was divorced, losing his family, which included several children.
Struggling to cope with the effects of brain damage and depression, he became homeless for several years, living where he could, which included a garage with several other men in similar circumstances.
According to the Veterans Administration, “Homeless veterans tend to be older and more educated than homeless non-veterans. But similar to the general population of homeless adult males, about 45 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and (with considerable overlap) slightly more than 70 percent suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse problems. Roughly 56 percent are African-American or Hispanic.”
After finding his clubhouse, meeting people with similar difficulties and receiving some basic social services, Phil began to recover a sense of himself. Over time, he learned skills that allowed him to oversee the clubhouse canteen and to operate a cash register. He acquired friends, even a girlfriend, and began to rent his own apartment, leaving the garage behind.
The new Phil will never be as healthy as the old Phil, but he is involved in his life now, independent and able to wisecrack to strangers through his physical and mental ailments, to appreciate humor and accounting and romance. Access to social services, self-motivation and good guidance from his psychosocial healthcare providers gave him the confidence to weather his circumstances and head in a new and healthier direction.
I don’t know how long it was that Phil wandered around before he realized he could participate again in his own life. I’m happy for him that he is no longer out there or on a corner or in a garage. Veterans don’t deserve that lack of attention. Then again, no one does.
This is about looking into Phil’s face and seeing hope look back. It’s a beautiful sight.