Far too often those of us that have been or are labeled as marginalized have fallen prey to our own mindset of victimhood, ignoring or refusing to accept the real assistance that is and has been available for years. This was true in my case.
Being a Vietnam era veteran and an inactive Marine (there are only active or inactive Marines-never former Marines), I came home and tried to make a life. And succeeded occasionally and failed in equal measure. But never found peace, couldn't shake the haunting memories being lived with, couldn't stay in any kind of a relationship and so began my journey that eventually took me to Alaska for the first time in 1974, where my heart and things have remained since.
Living in Alaska has provided me with a real sense of peace and safety. The fact that I was officially homeless for more than 20 years never registered or occurred to me, because of the peace experienced. However, mental and physical health problem cropped up. In the last seven years I have been in veteran hospitals more than a dozen times, self medicating, drinking, anger and violent outbursts were very much the norm for me. This was just one of many things that have helped me to come back around; helpful resources and caring people, besides family members caught up in their own lives.
Initially there was a Disabled American Veterans representative in Juneau, John Wilkins, who took me under wing and quietly began proving to me that I could trust him. Since our first encounter, I went to those many visits at the hospital, discovering that among the long list of other issues, that I had post-traumatic stress disorder a GAF score of 15, prostate cancer, diabetes, exposure to agent orange had left me without resistance to fungus, molds, and amazingly, I even learned that I could live a somewhat normal life in spite of those things. My problems got me a 100 percent disability rating.
Eventually, I quit living the nomadic life style, moved into an apartment, acquired stuff and found a remarkable woman to share my life with. I don't drink, use recreational drugs or get into bar brawls anymore and actually have had major work done on my teeth courtesy of the VA. I guess they decided it was a safe investment finally.
Over the years, I tried to get a grip on my life and attempted to start several businesses, none have succeeded for more than three years. But at least I have tried. My last attempt was devastating and left me wanting to end it all. Death has never frightened me as much as living does because survivor's guilt has haunted me since my return from Vietnam.
Alaska is what I perceive to be one of the most veteran friendly states in the United States. They excel at providing non-veteran assistance as well, and for that, I would like to thank some lesser known heroes and heroines in Gov. Sarah Palin's administration.
What can you do when you're over the hill so to speak, a disabled veteran and a former business owner? Those qualities don't resonate well on a resume. But when a job offer manifested, I couldn't get to it and needed help. Where do you turn? I went and chatted with Stan Lehman, and his supervisor Tom Hall. Stan had until recently worked for the Department of Labor and they pointed me in what turned out to be a right direction.
Stan was a former Veterans Employment rep for Alaska; he had me meet up with the current veteran rep, Timothy Miles, who has proved to be very helpful. I had heard about a program called Workforce Investment Act that could help with relocation costs. He pointed out who to contact.
Dan Lakip, a Career Development specialist for the state knew all about the program and suggested I work with the DA, and Jim Swanson, the Vocational Rehab regional manager. Swanson assigned the case to Beau Kelly, a vocational rehabilitation specialist. I asked John Wilkins, my DAV representative, about each of these folks. With his nod of approval, I felt comfortable and worked with them for several months, and we are still working together.
So what? Well, I had located employment in Anchorage, in a related field, but I couldn't get there. Dan Lakip, using a program, found a way to facilitate the move. The job required that I upgrade my work skills to bring them current. Kelly, with the additional assistance of Rae Beggan (a Work Force Development specialist), helped me meet the requirements for the job.
Soon, I plan to be working in this new position, but I know that none of this would have happened successfully without the helpful resources I've described. This grateful veteran wants to say thank you to everyone involved and that includes Ken Cook who helped me carry a heavy box from the resource center to my vehicle. This whole episode has left me profoundly moved and appreciative of being a resident of Alaska.
In addition to saying thanks, I'd like to encourage other veterans and non-veterans to reach out; help really is available.