After six years in the Marine Corps, Mike separated from service, but he had a difficult transition to civilian life – in finding a job and a place to live. He felt like no one understood him, until he turned to VA for help.
When you got out, what happened to you?
I got out in ’82, and we were in a deep recession back there if you remember the days of Reaganomics. I couldn’t get a job. They didn’t care that I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps or what I was doing. They had no comprehension. I lived in my car behind an oak tree behind a church. I took whatever life threw at me at that point. I didn’t consider myself homeless.
What was the lowest point in your life after your service?
The lowest is when I just wanted to see what’s it like to commit suicide. What’s it like? But you know… it wouldn’t have been fair to my son to leave life at that moment. And finally, I woke up on a Friday morning and said, man, I’ve got to do something different.
And you found VA?
I went down to VA. I talked to the social worker, the homeless social worker. He said, well, we have interviews at one o’clock for people that might be accepted into the domiciliary. I stood in front of a group of about 8 to 10 doctors, nurses, therapists. And each one of them asked me one or two questions; [they] called me back in [and said] you’ve been accepted into the domiciliary program.
It’s a four-month homeless program, but there’s a waiting list, so you have to wait for about 30 days. And I was content with that. I knew, OK, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a freight train.
So talk to me about the program at VA.
While I was living at the domiciliary… you know… thank God that program was there. It actually turned my life around. The caseworkers, the therapists, the doctors, and nurses – they all treated me with dignity, respect and most importantly, empathy. They understood. That’s something I didn’t get in like 29 years since I got out of the Marine Corps.
Try to get away from the weak things and build up the strengths that you have. And I capitalized on some of my strengths, and I found a job – security guard job. So I knew by the middle of June – I’d been working. I’d been saving some money.
So, do they help you with housing?
I found an apartment, and then I got interviewed for the HUD-VASH program – it’s like Section 8 for Veterans, VA Supportive Housing. When you leave the domiciliary, you’re insecure. You’re afraid of some pressures and responsibilities because you don’t want to go back to your old way of life. But the HUD-VASH program was that safety net that I needed.
What would you say to a Vet who thinks he doesn’t need these benefits?
There are resources available at VA. And if you don’t use it, shame on you. It’s there. That’s why it’s there. And I finally woke up to that. And my motivation was my son. When you look at your kid, I don’t want him to end up living the way I’m living.
Things got to be better somewhere, somehow. I just had to find that way to make things better. And VA gave me that way to make things better.
Apply for VA Health Care
Enrolling for VA health care is easier than ever before. Explore your eligibility today at www.choose.va.gov/health.
Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist with the National Veterans Outreach Office.