PTSD, addiction, lack of jobs feed homelessness among Augusta veterans

Ministry provides safe haven

Saturday, Aug 17, 2013 9:34 PM
Last updated Friday, Aug 30, 2013 6:59 PM
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Editor's Note: This article incorrectly reported the estimated number of homeless veterans in Augusta. Various agencies that serve homeless veterans estimate their numbers differently. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development says there are about 85 homeless veterans, and the Augusta Warrior Project says there are only 16.

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Homeless veterans Anthony Garrett, left, and Gary Leigh, middle, have lunch with Rev. Roger Gardner, right.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN
MICHAEL HOLAHAN
Homeless veterans Anthony Garrett, left, and Gary Leigh, middle, have lunch with Rev. Roger Gardner, right.

Anthony Garrett opened his Bible to the book of Isaiah, and in accordance with the prophet’s words, “raised his voice like a trumpet.”

When a crowd of homeless veterans joined the Mc­Cormick, S.C., native in worship at Augusta’s Under the Bridge ministry beneath Calhoun Expressway, Garrett was set free.

Free of the recurring nightmares where helicopters evacuate the former Army engineer’s friends after they have been fatally wounded while serving beside him in the Persian Gulf War.

Free of the constant reminders that he is broke, unemployed and alone.

Free of the stress of doing regular battle with Augusta’s job market, with no work to show for it at week’s end.

“This is the only peace I have left,” Garrett said.

By the federal government’s standards, the 51-year-old is a homeless veteran, one of a group estimated between 16 and 85 in the Augusta area known to sleep in woods, under bridges and in boarded-up houses.

Some trace their displacement to addiction and mental illness, but for most, it’s the souring economy that has uprooted them from their homes, forced them into emergency shelters or a relative’s spare bedroom.

In 2009, President Obama announced the federal government’s goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015, and in the past two years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has invested more than $1.1 billion to strengthen programs that find veterans jobs and housing.

Still, there are men such as Garrett. To them, homelessness has become a way of life.

“Life on the streets, it’s no fun,” Garrett said. “But I have not given up, nor am I quitting. All I want is a fair opportunity to go back to work and be a part of America like everyone else.”

Garrett was married, living in his own place and working as a forklift operator when he lost his job in a round of layoffs.

Three weeks later he found a second job as a funeral home grave digger, but was only able to do the labor-intensive work for about a year. He has two fused discs in his back, an injury from serving in Operation Desert Storm.

For the past three months, he has done carpentry work at his ex-wife’s uncle’s house in exchange for a place to lay his head.

He walks four miles every day, crossing the John L. Hixon Bridge in North Augusta, while reading the Bible scriptures recommended to him by the Rev. Roger Gard­ner, the leader of the Under the Bridge ministry, to ease his financial woes.

“The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,” Garrett said, citing Isaiah 61. “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives.”

The 13-county area surrounding Augusta and the central Savannah River is home to 66,000 veterans. More than one-third are younger than 45, and fewer than half receive the benefits they have earned through their military service, either because they are unaware they are eligible or do not know how to navigate the federal government’s system, according to a report from the Augusta Warrior Project, a local nonprofit that aims to find veterans jobs, housing and an education.

Veterans who can move in with family are the lucky ones. Garrett’s downfall began when he and his wife divorced.

Without a stable home address and a person to share expenses, he barely made enough money to rent an apartment for $200.

When his landlord more than doubled the rent in April, Garrett became part of an elusive group that mostly couch surfs or sleeps hidden away.

Garrett recently spent two weeks in the Salvation Army’s shelter on Greene Street. The sight of evicted tenants and domestic abuse victims intensified his night terrors and sent him further into depression.

He would often wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. He would look around and begin to have a panic attack, overwhelmed of how far he had fallen.

“At that point, I realized I hit rock bottom,” Garrett said. “I had lost everything.”

The root of the problem was that Garrett’s condition was well-documented.

“Once an employer learns you are a veteran with a certain illness, they will not hire you,” he said. “You are a liability, a drain on their benefits.”

Garrett’s decline has left him frustrated and angry.

“This is not how it should be,” he said. “What’s the purpose of serving your country and putting your life on the line if when you come home your community rejects you? It’s a slap in the face.”

On Aug. 8, Garrett was scheduled to move into a Nor­wood domiciliary as part of a 90-day treatment program for his post-traumatic stress that includes job training.

Garrett said Augusta is not a good environment for recovering veterans.

“The VA is doing their part, but unless the community takes a more aggressive stance in ending veteran homelessness, we will never lead a normal life,” Garrett said.

FIDEL ROLISON, 54

Fidel Rolison, 54, has not led a normal life since 1978, when he entered the Army and was stationed at Fort Benning.

Rolison said he became an alcoholic and suffered from sleep apnea and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease by the time he was discharged in 1981.

Today, he cannot handle manual labor because of a weak back, requires two liters of oxygen a day to breathe, an apnea machine to sleep and eight sets of medication to control his cholesterol, high blood pressure, hyperactive nerves, stomach pains, addictions, anxieties, sleep apnea and blindness in his left eye.

“The Army started my addiction – they promoted it,” Rolison said. “And now that it has grown in intensity, they will not help me break it.”

Rolison last held a job nine years ago, as a plumber, and said his existence hangs by the thread of a monthly $840 disability check.

After an unsuccessful stay on the uptown campus of the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center three months ago, Rolison has reverted to moving between the Salvation Army and Garden City Rescue shelters, paying between $5 and $8 a night.

When the nightmares strike, he reaches for a cigarette or takes a walk to drink a beer, a habit he said cost him his stay at the VA.

Rolison was admitted into a 90-day program at the VA center in the spring. Twenty-eight days into the treatment, he admitted to having a beer and was removed from the program.

He is unable to keep a relationship and is ashamed to visit his six children, two of whom are in Atlanta and four of whom are in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“The VA needs to change some of its rules and give patients a second chance,” Rolison said. “The person who wrote the book on addiction recovery did not do it in one try. Even he relapsed.”

– Wesley Brown, staff writer

BRYANT GARY, 57

Bryant Gary set plumbing, hung drywall, installed heating and air systems and wired electrical circuits at Midway Naval Air Station and at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif., from 1975 to 1996.

Despite all his knowledge in utility work, the first job he got when he left the Navy was as a projectionist at Regal Cinemas in Aiken.

The 57-year-old veteran said he had to wait four months before getting to put those skills to work.

In the past 17 years, Gary has installed 11 10-ton heating and air units at area Bank of America branches. He said he fitted the entertainment room at James Brown’s Beech Island mansion for heating and air units and repaired some faulty electrical wiring and metal piping.

But Gary said his work failed to translate into a raise or career advancement opportunities, so he quit to search for a position that would pay $12 an hour.

The gamble never paid off. Despite trying to re-enter the field for 5½ years, he “couldn’t find anything to save his life,” he said.

Around the same time, Gary divorced his wife, lost most of his military benefits to his estranged spouse and was left with only 20 percent disability – $287 a month on which to eat and live.

Having no desire to get a place of his own or live with his daughter in Aiken, Gary went to the Salvation Army’s Greene Street shelter.

He was able to find temporary relief after he landed a six-year job that paid $10.50 at a call center on Augusta’s south side. But the gig fell through in 2009 when the firm merged with another.

Today, Gary makes $8.50 an hour as a security guard. The drop in pay cost him $380 a month, forcing him to sleep on a friend’s sofa as he pursues a position at the Richmond County Marshal’s Office. He hopes to be able soon to afford housing at Peabody Apartments.

In the meantime, Gary serves as a “prayer warrior” at Beulah Grove Baptist Church and said he was recognized by the congregation this past Christmas for drawing so many to the faith.

He also advocates for a post-deployment skill test he says the government should allow veterans to take to show civilian employers what jobs they can do.

“That would solve a whole lot of problems,” Gary said.

– Wesley Brown, staff writer

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soldout
1283
Points
soldout 08/18/13 - 03:12 am
2
2
EFT

Emotional freedom technique is very effective for PTSD. You can learn to do basic method in 5 minutes and uses no drugs but lets the mind fix itself. Has been done in some VA hospitals with great success. It has been tested over and over in large tests and found to be more effective than any drug or other approach. Free, easy and effective; what more could you want.

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 04:38 am
4
13
Sorry, people that drink and

Sorry, people that drink and smoke choose to do so, and they have nobody to blame but themselves.

However, the Army has always had a big problem with alcoholism. The problem is that most of them are already alcoholics when they join, many join because that's their only job prospects, and they bring their addictions with them.

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 04:44 am
8
7
"But Gary said his work

"But Gary said his work failed to translate into a raise or career advancement opportunities, so he quit to search for a position that would pay $12 an hour."

When you quit a job, there is no guarantee that you will get a better one, ever, and that applies to everybody. And that's nobody's fault.

Somehow, I just think that there's more to this story than is being told.

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 04:47 am
5
7
Soldout, please list the VA

Soldout, please list the VA hospitals where that quack method of EFT is being used. You can't list them, there aren't any.

But I really would like to know, because if you can come up with such a list, probably from that quack and criminal Dr. Mercola or one like him, I'm calling my Congressman and demanding to know why my tax dollars are being used on quackery. Other people would like to know, too.

Because it's not free, my tax dollars would be paying for somebody to do something that is worthless.

soldout
1283
Points
soldout 08/18/13 - 06:16 am
5
3
eft done for free for vets

I watched videos of patients being treated since about 2008. Here is one article of many written about it. You know the truth is the truth no matter who says it and a fact is a fact whether you can prove it or not.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-ortner/eft-tapping_b_1432972.html

wildman
1217
Points
wildman 08/18/13 - 06:37 am
10
1
Augusta Warrior Project

The Augusta Warrior Project has been a great help to the homeless veteran problem. The organization had helped better than 130 get back to some sort of independence. Please advise those that dont know the Warrior Project is a very positive organization. As a veteran I understand the difficulties once you leave active duty. God Bless everyone that has served this great country.

Graymare
3780
Points
Graymare 08/18/13 - 07:18 am
9
5
There but for the grace of

There but for the grace of God (go I). ~John Bradford 1510-1555
Oh yes, people are just itching to quit their job so they can either live under a bridge or in a shelter. And so what if they want to have a drink or a smoke? Wow, so judgemental! Thank God, God is on His throne and you are not!

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 08/18/13 - 07:26 am
1
0
So there's 300 +/- homeless
Unpublished

So there's 300 +/- homeless veterans in the Augusta area alone. The sub-headline states "ministry offers safe haven" ---- where? Still under the bridge? With all these church cathedrals on just about every corner and many that are set up palaces - why are there homeless veterans (or homeless in general) on the streets or under bridges at night? Do you think homeless people really want you to come preach to them under those damp bridges. How about the churches start earning their tax exempt status and open their doors to the homeless at night. Some of these churches have multiple church vans or busses- you could round them up every evening and bring them to the church and feed them. It may cut into you profits just a little, but wouldn't Jesus do that??

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:15 am
0
0
How about reading 2 Kings 7:3,4? Sitting here while you die?
Unpublished

How about reading 2 Kings 7:3,4? Sitting here while you die?

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:18 am
0
0
Why not retrofit the many empty "government properties" for
Unpublished

homeless veterans. Let them manage the shelters and upkeep. They have benefits. They have skills.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:19 am
0
0
There are building available for them to be off the street. Why?
Unpublished

There are building available for them to be off the street. Why?

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:20 am
0
0
How many of the 300 want a "responsible life"? 100,200, 300?
Unpublished

How many of the 300 want a "responsible life"? 100,200, 300?

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:21 am
0
0
Sadly, The Kroc Center could have met many of these needs.
Unpublished

Sadly, The Kroc Center could have met many of these needs.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:24 am
0
0
One answer. A city clean up crew compensated with room/board.
Unpublished

One answer. A city clean up crew compensated with room/board.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:25 am
0
0
Meaningful work. Self respect. A new beginning. How bout it AWW
Unpublished

Meaningful work. Self respect. A new beginning. How bout it AWW

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:26 am
0
0
Think outside the box AWWP. Work not handouts.
Unpublished

Think outside the box AWWP. Work not handouts.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:28 am
0
0
Homeless are a political football. They are needed as homeless.
Unpublished

Homeless are a political football. They are needed as homeless.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:29 am
0
0
Homeless veterans offer 6 figure jobs for managers of homeless.
Unpublished

Homeless veterans offer 6 figure jobs for managers of homeless.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:30 am
0
0
Sort of like keeping them barefoot and pregnant.................
Unpublished

Sort of like keeping them barefoot and pregnant.................

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 09:59 am
7
9
If people want to drink and

If people want to drink and smoke, they have the right to, but then they can't very well complain when they ruin their health, not can they?

What do people think will happen to them, when they are addicted to cigarettes and alcohol? That they will stay healthy forever?

It's one thing to have health issues that you can't help and can't control, it's another thing to do things that deliberately destroy your health.

And if you want to see that as judgmental, that's fine with me.

I buried my brother last November 1st. He was 57. He drank and smoked. And he did it to himself. He literally killed himself with alcohol and cigarettes.

When somebody says that the Army caused their addiction and won't help them break it-sorry, I don't agree with that. Ever. I call that refusal to take personal responsibility, and those people never succeed in breaking their addictions until they do.

Eriepeach
13
Points
Eriepeach 08/18/13 - 10:46 am
9
4
To Corismom

Wow. You obviously have no idea what an ugly monster alcoholism can be. It must be nice so high upon your pedestal. These men might not be saints, but they deserve more than what you refer to them as. While I agree there are methods that can help many beat their addictions and there is a degree of personal responsibility involved, your cold hearted and ignorant response is down right disrespectful. You know nothing of these men or what struggles they have faced in their life, nor of anything they might have seen while serving their country. It may all seem so easy to you, just quit and take control. When you are a man who has been knocked down for year, has society turn their nose up at you at first site, and have to sleep at night sometimes with images replayed over and over of friends being killed or other such horrors from serving, why don't you see how easy it is. My father also killed himself from drinking and smoking. It was heart breaking to watch and many times I questioned why can't you just stop, but the burdens in his mind just could not be overcome. Unlike you, I respected him and still do for his service as a US MARINE and all he tried to do in life. What did you do for your brother besides disrespect his memory so lowly on a public forum. You should be ashamed. To all the men this article refers to, please keep trying. There are those of us out there that believe it can happen for you. Thank you for your service and don't let the judgement of others lessen what or who you are.

bclicious
770
Points
bclicious 08/18/13 - 11:07 am
8
4
WOW

Absolutely no one on here is defending veterans! I would think that this article would spark a little outrage from people that this problem still exists, and is completely out of control.

I guess it's just a sign of the times, but I wonder what everyone's comments would have looked like if the date were actually Aug 18th 2005, instead of Aug 18th 2013.

Apparently patriotism, and respect for ones veterans is like politics; it changes like the proverbial weather.

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 11:42 am
5
4
Eriepeach, you have no idea

Eriepeach, you have no idea what I am or am not aware of. I am very aware of how alcohol destroys people's lives, including their innocent family members.

I also lived with a father with severe PTSD and who was an alcoholic, so don't try to tell me I don't know, or that I'm ignorant. The effects of my father's problems are still being felt by my family, they never go away.

You know what? People have different viewpoints about things. I have mine. You have yours. And while I respect yours, you don't respect mine.

I'm not required to think like you do, I don't have to.

I also know, though, that blaming the Army for somebody drinking and smoking is like me blaming Toyota if I run my car into a telephone pole. I also know that if I drank and smoked, I would have serious health problems, because about 99% of smokers eventually do.

I believe in personal responsibility, I believe that there is a difference between problems that you can help and ones that you can't, and I know that difference.

And you are free to disagree with me.

itsanotherday1
48148
Points
itsanotherday1 08/18/13 - 11:44 am
5
2
@bclicious

"Absolutely no one on here is defending veterans! I would think that this article would spark a little outrage from people that this problem still exists, and is completely out of control."

That is the first emotion I felt when I read the article. It is a downright dirty shame that we have ANY able bodied veterans in a homeless situation that is not of their own doing. At a minimum there should be a safety net shelter system for them to turn to until they can be evaluated.

I understand where Corgi is coming from with respect to people who are self destructive and won't take responsibility for their own actions; but those veterans who find themselves in the street under circumstances beyond their control should have a backstop. Anything less is shameful.

soldout
1283
Points
soldout 08/18/13 - 11:53 am
2
3
Amen Corgimom

Things happen to all people that they can't control but we are always, always in charge of our reaction to it. I know a pow who survived many years in solitary confinement, got released and came home to find his wife divorced him the week before. He chose his reaction to all that and is doing better than most people who have had an easy life. Jesus hang on a cross dying for doing nothing wrong and said "forgive them" and he did that as a man and a man in control of his reaction. It isn't easy but we are always in charge of our reaction to life. We may need help to react better but we can do it. I enjoy helping folks with my labor, money or limited knowledge but you find more you can't help than those you can help.

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 12:18 pm
4
4
When we went to a volunteer

When we went to a volunteer military, the military changed significantly. The mental health problems of the military is staggering. The addiction problems are staggering. The military has always had a certain amount of problems with it, but now it's exploded.

It used to be very rare for a soldier to be a drug addict. A drunk, yes- back in the old days, that was one of the few places that a drunk could always find steady employment and a place to live, it was rampant- but not drug addiction. It blew up with Vietnam, and has gotten worse.

It is now expected to have drug problems in a unit. It is now expected that lots of soldiers, with a weekend pass, will come up dirty. Drug use is so wide-spread in our country that it is getting harder and harder for the military to find people that don't use drugs, to make their security clearances.

And it's the same in civilian life.

More and more service members have mental health problems. Lots of them used drugs as teenagers, and for many of them, it caused mental and emotional issues and they don't have maturity or coping skills, they were too drugged up as teenagers and didn't learn them. Then they go into the military, stressful things happen, and they fall apart.

When you are an addict, when you are a substance abuser, when you have mental issues, when you are emotionally fragile, when you don't cope with life well as a civilian, your chances of making it through the military and coming out healthy aren't good. When they had the draft, they got enough random selection to insure that they didn't have too many issues. They don't have that random selection anymore.

It's a very serious problem, and it's not going to stop anytime soon. Do we say "Serve 3 or 4 years in the military and we will take care of you for the rest of your life, even though you already had problems when you entered the military"? What's fair? What's right? Where does the money come from, for this?

What about the millions upon millions upon millions of veterans that serve, and come back and cope on their own, and that don't get any help? Are they any less deserving of aid and asisstance, because they aren't messed up, because they made better choices?

IBeDogGone
3015
Points
IBeDogGone 08/18/13 - 01:51 pm
3
1
Sorry have to agree Corigmon

I share most of what corigmon has said, I have had 2 family members fight alcohol and drugs and I do not believe either one of them would be productive citizens today if the family had not let them hit rock bottom.
We provided for health care and a treatment program only after they said this is it and they wanted to do it for themselves.

We the taxpayers pay for the benefits for all serving and retired military and I have no problem with that, they laid their life for my freedom. Augusta provides good medicar resources for these people and recently hired 12 more mental health providers for returning soilders.

If they want it the resources are out there to make it happen!

validPoint
982
Points
validPoint 08/18/13 - 02:45 pm
3
1
Talk Is Cheap

Talk is so cheap for the in-experienced, the inspectors have the greatest jobs of all, and most people who respond to the behavior of folk who find themselves immersed in a situation would not handle the situation as well as well as the victims seem to manage.

First, I applaude the leader of Under The Bridge Ministry for the contribution and efforts you are taking in order to try to bring some comfort to those who are in this situation. Whether you are appreciated or not, God sees and I am persuaded that in His miraculous way, he will reward you. Please do not waste energy expecting a "pat on the back" from mankind, because unfortunately for well meaning people, we live in a world that is over-crowded with cruel, self serving and insensitive people.

For some time now, I have been serching for the type of information provided by this article, because I would like to reach out to the disabled veteran population as well, because God has blessed me to be able to do so. While no one person can serve every need, it would be a good thing for every person to find at least one need to address.

By the way, my deceased husband gave thirty (30) years of his life to the military, and passed away as the result ot a service connected injury. As a result, i believe it is my reasonable service to at least make some type of contribution in his honor, if for no other reason.

corgimom
38221
Points
corgimom 08/18/13 - 02:29 pm
3
2
Validpoint, your idea is

Validpoint, your idea is great and will be very gratifying to you.

I can't tell exactly what you mean by your post, so forgive me if I presume. I don't know what you have in mind.

Please, contact reputable agencies like the VA. Do your helping under safe parameters, with people that are screened and supervised.

Some of those men aren't good people. Just because they served in the military, doesn't mean that they won't do you harm. Just because they are disabled, doesn't mean that they are harmless. There are lots of criminals out there, there are lots of manipulative, deceitful people out there, there are lots of disturbed people out there. Many of them are drug users, and they are one person sober, another person while high, and you never know what you are getting.

Start with the VA, see what they say. They love volunteers. They will match you with your skills and talents and desires into something that you will love.

validPoint
982
Points
validPoint 08/18/13 - 04:06 pm
3
2
Thanks, Corgi

Thanks, Corgi. I am familiar with the techniques you mentioned, however I have not been successful with getting the information I seek. You are so right, not all those men are good people, and wisdom is required in dealing with them. My interest is in providing a home for the right vetern, maybe two. Neither am I interested in selling the home, nor am I interested in living it. Never thought about making the VA aware of this as many times as I have made contact. Thanks, again.

Also, Corgi I believe approching this from a spriitual standpoint would be more in line with my idea, I am not interested in anyone who does not have or seek to have a relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is one reason this article attracked me so much, and i would like to make contact with the ones who are offering this ministry.

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