A Moment of Reflection on Veterans Day

November 11, 2015
Julia Weegar

In reflection of this Veterans Day, I have been thinking back on my own service in the military as well as that of my family. I come from three generations of soldiers as my grandfather served in World War II and my father served multiple combat deployments in both Korea and Vietnam. I myself served in Germany with the U.S. Army from 1976 to 1980, and although my service was important, it was not like that of the men and women who have made sacrifices in combat deployments, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for their country.

In working at Franciscan Outreach with Veterans facing homelessness, it is hard not to think of my father’s experiences as a Veteran. When he returned from his deployment in Vietnam and Korea, it was clear that he was devastated not only physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. PTSD was not widely known or understood as a condition that needed to be treated at that time, and as a result he would never recover from the trauma he faced.

My father, like many Veterans, lived with the nightmares of combat and struggled to reacclimate to civilian life. It would be ten years before he would hold consistent employment and, rarely speaking of his experiences, he often turned to alcohol to medicate his undiagnosed PTSD. Eventually, that increasing use of alcohol to quiet his nightmares is what would contribute to his death at the age of forty-six. It could have been different if he had access to treatment and counseling.

What did set my father apart from so many of our veteran guests who face homelessness is that he had a large support network that ensured he would at least always have a home. This is not the case for so many Veterans. Most of the men and women I work with at Franciscan Outreach are chronically homeless due to lack of a solid family or social support network. Many families are just not equipped to handle the plethora of issues that stem from PTSD.

The good news is that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has made great strides in understanding and treating combat and other trauma related disorders, but there is still so much work to be done to ensure that everyone who needs that treatment is able to access it effectively. That is where Franciscan Outreach, and other social services agencies come in.

Together we have joined to answer Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s call to end veteran homelessness in the city of Chicago. Our case managers have received special training in the new Veteran’s Homeless Assessment tool in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which allows us to effectively determine a veteran’s needs and pair them with a housing provider that will best support them. The program does not discriminate against those Veterans who may have a dishonorable or less than honorable discharge.

This housing first model means to provide our clients with stability, which in turn will allow case managers to build trusting relationships. This also results in clients being more likely to open up about their experiences so they can get help for things like PTSD.
If you know someone who is a Veteran, please take a moment to thank them for their service, because you never know the sacrifices they have made for our country.

About the Author: Nick Benedetto is the Director of Case Management at Franciscan Outreach, where he has worked since February of 2003.

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