MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER
America?s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military?s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.
About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans)
It is not hard to find statistics such as the above. So many numbers. Numbers without a face or name to put with them, but when you DO have a face and name? Those statistics become much more than just a number.
I?d like to share a ?statistic? with you.
Alan Keller is a disabled veteran who has been struggling for years with service connected chronic pain. Along with the continuous pain; he deals with anxiety, depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
To help deal with the pain and depression, Alan would self-medicate.
Over the years, Alan has tried to receive benefits through the Veterans Administration (VA) and has been unsuccessful for various reasons. With each denial from the VA, his depression and anxiety would grow, which in turn required even more self-medication, until it reached a point where he found himself sitting in a jail cell, having been arrested for driving while under the influence.
At the present time, and after many years of not asking for or wanting any help, Alan is on the road to a positive life. In his words, ?I?m surviving, one day at a time? with the help of various organizations all working together.
There are many facets to Alan?s story, but one stands out and that is what Alan would like to share. Not all of the negative that he has endured, but the positive that has come about from his struggle.
6 years ago, Alan became the owner of a Boxer puppy. He named her Dink. She was the runt of the litter and was told she would not survive unless she was fed with an eye dropper. Alan adopted her, fed her with an eye dropper and gradually was able to bottle feed her. Throughout this time, Alan put all of his energy and focus into keeping this small unwanted puppy alive, and in doing so, realized that she was in fact, saving him.
Six years have went by and Alan and Dink are inseparable. The bond that has been formed is one that cannot be measured. ?I think all veterans should have an animal. I am off all of the psych medications that I previously took, and it?s all because of her. She saved my life.?
I wondered how Dink, this sweet Boxer could have saved his life. Alan shared his thought on that, which were strong and heartfelt ?I didn?t care about my life. When I found her, she became my focus, my world. She is the reason I quit doing foolish things. She is the one who is with me and lets me know she is there when my anxiety comes on me. She is the reason I keep going each day. We have a very strong bond. She saved my life and I would lay down my own for her.?
Are there still struggles for Alan? Yes, there are. But he has learned to reach out and ask for help. In doing so, he has met some wonderful people from many organizations that are helping him. He still has a hard time believing that people want to help. He always felt as if he was just a ?number? to everyone.
Alan has a business card from one of the organizations that have helped him, it states ?Providing outreach, resources and honor to those who have given so much for our country.?
He shared that he keeps this card near him all the time. When asked why, he simply said ?because sometimes you just need an encouraging word to get through the day, it can mean the world, and this card does that for me.?
As the author of this article I was touched to hear that, but as a co-founder of the organization that card belongs to, Embracing Our Veterans, I was truly humbled.
As our conversation was coming to a close, Alan shared one last thing and said it with conviction. ?I will not fall again. I have my focus and my dog. One day at a time. I gave up for a while there, didn?t care whether I lived or died. Now, little by little, things are coming together.?
Thank you Mr. Keller, for your service, sacrifice and willingness to share your story. I pray the rest of your journey is a peaceful one.
May God Bless America and all those who have given so much for her.
Kim Lengling is a local author, Co-Chair of Project Support Our Troops and Co-Founder of Embracing Our Veterans. She can be reached at [email protected] or 814-450-0622.