Listening to and encouraging homeless veterans Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by S. R. Quinones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- On an August afternoon this past summer, I had the opportunity to talk with "Jack," a military veteran who had once been homeless but has been off the streets for a number of years.

Jack had been raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm with 11 siblings and served in the Korean War. As we talked, I learned how the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital program for helping homeless vets recover helped Jack take charge of his life.

Help from VA program

We met at Jack's apartment with Matt Heldman, VA peer specialist at the William S. Middleton VA Memorial Hospital in Madison, himself a homeless vet who experienced a successful recovery.

Jack shared his story of finding himself homeless after his military service. He explained that he had no idea what he was signing up for when he enlisted as a young man.

"Being trained to kill was very difficult for me," he said. Because of that sense of "moral injury" along with reasons stemming from childhood, Jack was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He had been surviving on the streets of Madison for three to four months when he entered the program.

Jack explained how things changed when Heldman started to visit him for about an hour each week. "Matt just kept talking to me about positive thinking and helped me turn around the negative thoughts in my head," he said.

Heldman explained, "Recovery focuses, in part, on different aspects of community: 1) Encourage relating to a higher power (God), 2) encourage relating to oneself, 3) and encourage relating to family, bosses, and others.

"Jack took advantage of opportunities to accept help. Each person must be an agent of his own change -- the decision to ask for help is what makes things change," said Heldman.

"I knew I wanted to change, but I didn't know how to do it. I knew where I wanted to be but didn't see myself getting there," Jack remarked.

According to Heldman, "The key is patient, loving relationships that let people recover at their own pace. We must be in relationship with them -- God is patient with us, over time we change. There is no medication that heals like meaningful community and believing in yourself."

Move-In Kits program

In regards to community, Heldman said, "I want to express my gratitude to all the people and organizations who have donated supplies for our Move-In Kits program, including Monica Quinones.

"Helping these men and women get a home set up, with a box of new linens, bedding, cleaning and hygiene supplies is a great moral support. It treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve for their service to our country."

Donors to the Move-In Kits program who have made a difference in the life of veterans include: St. Mary Parish, Pine Bluff; St. Michael the Archangel Parish (St. Ignatius, Mt. Horeb, and Holy Redeemer, Perry); St. Mary's Pine Bluff Three Hearts Knights of Columbus; Knights of Columbus at St. Christopher Parish, Verona; Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart, Madison; St. Ambrose Academy, Madison; the Ladies of Divine Mercy; Holy Family Homeschoolers; Holy Family Homeschoolers Teens Group; Culvers of Cross Plains Share Night; and individual donors.

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