• 41°

Veterans helping veterans with program

The Homeless Veteran Community Resource and Referral Center in Huntington, W.Va., is fighting to eliminate homelessness among the Tri-State’s veterans.

The HVCRRC serves 24 different counties including Lawrence County. It offers assistance to veterans by providing food, clothing and a place to shower. They also offer several programs geared toward helping educate vets on the steps they can take to get themselves back on their feet.

“Many veterans just don’t know what resources are available to them,” said Leann Bills, a homeless program coordinator at the HVCRRC. “We want to help them figure out what we have to offer and what programs they qualify for.”

Sometimes open discourse with homeless veterans can be difficult, which is why Bills says it’s important that the HVCRRC works closely with the Veterans Administration Medical Center’s peer support specialist.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get them to talk to you or open up,” Bills said. “They are more likely to talk to people who have been in similar situations.”

Jason Wright served in the military until he received a medical discharge in 1991. Upon his release from the service he fell into a depression and began abusing drugs.

“I’d always been an athlete,” Wright said. “I played college football. Then I blew out my knees while in the military and found myself not feeling like myself.

“So I turned to drugs. I spent 12 years addicted to crack-cocaine. Eight of those years I also spent on the streets without a home.”

Wright’s road to recovery began exactly seven years ago on Dec. 26, 2006, when he decided to check himself into the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Johnson City, Tenn. It was there he was diagnosed with clinical depression.

“I found out through the therapy at the VA that I had depression,” Wright said. “I learned there how to cope with my mental illness and suddenly the drugs were a nonissue. I didn’t need them anymore. The VA saved my life.”

Rededicated, Wright decided he wanted to become a social worker to help others in the same way he was helped. He went back to school and obtained his bachelor’s degree in 2011 and began working as a peer support specialist. Wright says that he invites any homeless veteran to check out the VA and its resources, even those who may be skeptical.

“I know the VA has a bad reputation with some veterans, especially with your older vets, like the guys from Vietnam,” Wright said. “Things have changed though, I promise you if you want help we can give it to you.”

One of the most important things in getting veterans to open up and seek the help they need is to never act as if you’ve been in their shoes, Wright said.

“I never act like my situation is worse or I know exactly what they’re going through,” Wright said. “I don’t. Just like they don’t know exactly what I’ve been through. I just tell them my story and let them know if I can do it then they can too.”

Wright also says that homeless veterans are unfairly portrayed as making up a large portion of the homeless population and they are homeless by choice.

“In the Tri-State less than 15 percent of the homeless population is made up of vets,” Wright said. “A lot of people misrepresent themselves as veterans to get a handout from people.

“Also, none of these people are choosing to be homeless. They all have outside factors contributing to their situations. Mine was a mental illness that led to drug use. Now my job is to help them find what their factors are and help them deal with those.”

The HVCRRC is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. The HVCRRC also offers an outreach program at the Lawrence County Workforce Development Resource Center every Thursday. For more information on the HVCRRC and its program at the WDRC call 304-429-6755 or 740-532-3140.