A Few Thoughts
The veteran’s story started many years ago, but I will start when I met him last spring. I was working my regular shift at the crisis center when I noticed a man hanging around the center. He never got called in to be helped, and was there all morning. He looked like any other bedraggled and unshaven client down on his luck. Finally, he came over and walked behind the front counter. I said, “You can’t come back here, you have to wait out front.”
“But I’m working here,” he said.”
I discovered that he was volunteering as a security guard. Our clientele has exploded this past year, and we are so busy and crowded that the administration decided there was a need for some help with minor problems and crowd control in the waiting area and parking lot. He showed up and wanted to help because this was the first place he came for help when he was down and out. And the Vet’s story began to unfold.
He was a serviceman whose parachute failed during a jump and he ended up with permanent damage to his legs, along with other injuries. He was disabled and discharged. His marriage had ended in divorce, so not only was his body broken, but his mind and his spirit were too. He could see nowhere to go, no solutions and no means or reason to continue living. He showed me pictures of what he called his home. Lost and lonely, he had ended up living for years in a crate down by the Arkansas River with just enough space for a pallet and a camp stove. It was neatly organized, with a little shelf for his meager food, but the pictures and his story made me want to cry.
After eleven years of this living hell, God sent him an angel. She worked for the VA, but not just as an employee. She actually went out to look for these broken vets where they lived. She came to his camp one day, got down in the mud with him and said “I am going to help you.” She came back with some papers from the VA and said, “I have a place for you to live.” And thus began his rehabilitation and transition back to life in a civilized world. He was sent to our crisis center, where he got food, clothes, hygiene items, and a reason to start to live again. After months of treatment, he was back on his feet, still facing surgery and treatment, but healing in mind and spirit.
Now he and two other compassionate veterans are at the crisis center every day volunteering their services. They have made connections in the community and in churches to help other people in dire need. They know what to do and how to help because they have been there. They have turned many lives around by their presence and helpfulness. This Christmas they were a big part of our special Christmas outreach project, in which we procured supplies, toys, books and entertainment for the needy. These humble, helpful men became Santa and elves to the clients and their families, bringing smiles, laughter and love to those who need it most.
A man came into the center the other day, and tearfully asked: “Do you help with heat? I just need some propane to heat my place.” We chatted a little and he informed me that he was out of a job, he lost his house and all his belongings, and now he lived in a trailer behind some building. I was devastated by his situation. He finally said “I’m at the end of my rope, I’ve lost everything, and I can’t afford propane to heat my trailer. I am a veteran, if that means anything.”
“We can help you,” I said with a relieved smile. I called one of our vets over and told him the man needed his help. I knew they’d take him through the line for food, clothes, hope, and so much more. When he left with his arms loaded, he was smiling through his tears.
“Thank You,” he said quietly
Oh yes, and as for my vet friend. He spent Christmas with his entire family for the first time in 15 years! Happy New Year everyone!