Military veterans make a huge contribution to our communities in Alaska. I think of a particular man I met at Catholic Social Services. He visits annually to give a donation to our food pantry. He is not a man of many words but he is kind and generous. During one visit, I struck up a conversation about our great state. He told of coming to Alaska in the military and staying afterwards. He worked all over the state, made a good living and now is retired. He mentioned friends he made in the military — people who are still friends. “We went through a lot together,” he said.
I think of the intense situations he and his friends must have experienced together. A bond was formed in their trauma — something this gentleman built on his whole life.
Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Long-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty recovering.
By using an approach in our work that acknowledges trauma and meets our clients where they are in their journey, more people are reaching long-term stability. I think of that with our veteran clients. Catholic Social Services is the provider of a grant program called Supportive Services for Veteran Families and works with veterans to find permanent housing. The story of Lewis touched us recently.
Lewis, a 61-year-old Army veteran, came to Brother Francis Shelter to recover in our medical respite program. He was homeless for at least two years before ending up in the hospital with kidney failure and other medical issues. He lived in his car before arriving at medical respite, which offers beds for men and women to recover from an acute illness or injury and overcome homelessness. Skilled healthcare professionals provide care and services include physical, occupational and speech therapy, nursing and home health aide. Case managers work with men and women in medical respite to move toward permanent housing.
Lewis — like many veterans — discovered benefits available to him, but chose not to accept them. He felt others were more deserving, and that if he didn’t take the benefits then someone with greater need could have them. But every veteran deserves and earned those services.
Through relationships cultivated at Brother Francis Shelter, Lewis connected with other veterans in medical respite. The words from fellow veterans helped him understand and accept the benefits offered to him.
In his turning point, doctors began to see improved function to his kidneys and heart. By connecting and engaging with others in medical respite — and taking in much needed rest — Lewis’ health improved. Case managers at Catholic Social Services advocated for Lewis to receive benefits and to gain support from organizations across Anchorage. They found him a fully furnished apartment he could call his own.
Nationally, approximately 39,000 veterans are without a home on any given night and about 1.4 million other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. As a community, Anchorage is closing the gap on homelessness among veterans, and we are an active part of that effort, along with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In fiscal year 2017, Catholic Social Services provided intensive case management to 100 veterans and their families. Eighty-eight veterans exited our program into permanent housing.
We are committed to continuing our work with veterans and celebrate them and our armed services, throughout the year.