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Is Anyone Helping Homeless Veterans?
Albuquerque, N.M. - There has been some political mudslinging recently over homeless veterans. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said, "Tonight, 200,000 men and women who wore our uniform proudly and served this country courageously as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates. We're better than this."
Edwards' estimate of homeless veterans is supported by the Veterans Administration. They say on their web site that about one-third of the adult homeless population have served their country in the Armed Services. The VA notes that population estimates suggest that about 195,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night, and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during a year.
Political pundit Bill O'Reilly has challenged Edwards' statement about homeless veterans saying homeless people will "not support themselves" because they "want to get drunk, or they want to get high ... or they don't want to work [because] they're too lazy."
Jeremy Reynalds, Founder and CEO of Joy Junction, a large homeless shelter in Albuquerque, N.M. knows the truth, but he's not taking sides in the political debate. "I'm just happy politicians and the media are turning their attention to the homeless problem. The plight of the homeless is something both politicians and the media generally ignore."
Reynalds sees how war touches the lives of men on a daily basis, and why it leads to homelessness. There are currently 17 homeless veterans at Joy Junction. They are from bygone wars, but Reynalds believes the same dynamics are at work now, and many aimless veterans will join the ranks of the homeless as a result of the current war.
One of the homeless men at Joy Junction, Mike Ballew, fought in Granada while in the army. He suggested that vets who are having a hard time coping make use of the free counseling offered by the VA. He also believes faith plays a part in getting grounded too. He said, "With God in your life, life's pain goes away; with His guidance, life gets better."
Ballew, who now works for Joy Junction, knows how difficult coping can be. He received "an other than honorable discharge for the good of the army," and a reduction in rank. He said, "After that, for the next 20 years, I bounced around from job to job, relationship to relationship and in and out of jail, just running from myself not wanting to admit I had any problems. Whenever things got too
stressful, I would just pick up and run."
It wasn't until Ballew came to Joy Junction and met Jesus that he stopped running, he said, and with the Lord's help, started to get his life back on track.
Reynalds said that the faith-based approach offered by Joy Junction has an excellent record of helping veterans and their families get back on track. Reyanlds talks about his successful methods, as well as the Joy Junction's history, in his book, "Homeless in the City: A Call to Service."
Judy Sadler, another homeless person being served by Joy Junction, was a vehicle driver and dispatcher while serving in the U.S. Air Force. She advised other homeless veterans to stay on top of benefit information.
She said, "At some point you will need your benefits. Find out how to use them to your full advantage. Paper trail everything. It is not real if it is not documented. Ask the VA to help you find what you need. Don't ever let the government blow you off. Use what you learned and never be too proud to accept what is due to you. You are a vet. Be proud."
Sadler said she became homeless through difficult family circumstances and losing three jobs. There's a poignant irony in her advice to her fellow vets about staying on top of their benefits. While researching her own eligibility, she discovered her benefits would only cover her death, demonstrating that all-inclusive benefits were not as available to homeless veterans as some pundits think.
Joy Junction resident Allen Chase, who served in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft mechanic, also suggested counseling.
He said, "Vets should take the advice of others who have been where they are. They should join a group to talk about fears or needs as they arise. They should also seek out the advice of a chaplain at the nearest VA."
Chase has had a difficult life, with a near fatal stabbing and alcohol abuse resulting in a drunk driving conviction. After the injury, Chase said he tried treatment programs, but nothing seemed to work.
However, after many years, he and his wife arrived at Joy Junction. With help from God and shelter staff, they are learning new ways to deal with life's problems.
Reynalds said, "I think the Veterans Administration figures are accurate. Homelessness among veterans is a big problem now, and I think it will become a greater issue in the future."