After six years in the Marine Corps, Mike separated from service, but he had a difficult transition to civilian life – in finding a job and a place to live. He felt like no one understood him, until he turned to VA for help.

When you got out, what happened to you?

I got out in ’82, and we were in a deep recession back there if you remember the days of Reaganomics. I couldn’t get a job. They didn’t care that I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps or what I was doing. They had no comprehension. I lived in my car behind an oak tree behind a church. I took whatever life threw at me at that point. I didn’t consider myself homeless.

What was the lowest point in your life after your service?

The lowest is when I just wanted to see what’s it like to commit suicide. What’s it like? But you know… it wouldn’t have been fair to my son to leave life at that moment. And finally, I woke up on a Friday morning and said, man, I’ve got to do something different.

And you found VA?

I went down to VA. I talked to the social worker, the homeless social worker. He said, well, we have interviews at one o’clock for people that might be accepted into the domiciliary. I stood in front of a group of about 8 to 10 doctors, nurses, therapists. And each one of them asked me one or two questions; [they] called me back in [and said] you’ve been accepted into the domiciliary program.

Marine Corps Veteran Mike

It’s a four-month homeless program, but there’s a waiting list, so you have to wait for about 30 days. And I was content with that. I knew, OK, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a freight train.

So talk to me about the program at VA.

While I was living at the domiciliary… you know… thank God that program was there. It actually turned my life around. The caseworkers, the therapists, the doctors, and nurses – they all treated me with dignity, respect and most importantly, empathy. They understood. That’s something I didn’t get in like 29 years since I got out of the Marine Corps.

Try to get away from the weak things and build up the strengths that you have. And I capitalized on some of my strengths, and I found a job – security guard job. So I knew by the middle of June – I’d been working. I’d been saving some money.

So, do they help you with housing?

I found an apartment, and then I got interviewed for the HUD-VASH program – it’s like Section 8 for Veterans, VA Supportive Housing. When you leave the domiciliary, you’re insecure. You’re afraid of some pressures and responsibilities because you don’t want to go back to your old way of life. But the HUD-VASH program was that safety net that I needed.

What would you say to a Vet who thinks he doesn’t need these benefits?

There are resources available at VA. And if you don’t use it, shame on you. It’s there. That’s why it’s there. And I finally woke up to that. And my motivation was my son. When you look at your kid, I don’t want him to end up living the way I’m living.

Things got to be better somewhere, somehow. I just had to find that way to make things better. And VA gave me that way to make things better.

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Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist with the National Veterans Outreach Office.

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Published on Apr. 27, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.2 min.

Views to date: 512


  1. Pat Rogers May 1, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    Worst health care ever. Torn the tendons in all .my fingers. Took forever to get in touch with anyone in ortho. Finally got in touch to have a phone cosult withu primary doctor. Waited 7 weeks for that and he said all he could do was prescribe tylenol. Finally got into see ortho after 2 months. Had an mri and waited 6 more weeks because they wont give results over the phone. Fi ally got to see an ortho doc who said i neededsurgery to fix my hand but probably wouldnt if i had come in sooner. Thos is 4 months aftet my 1st attemp to see a doctor. Then i get a phone call 3 days later from a specialist that says i dont need surgery just therapy. I clfor an appointment. Its 2 months out. Finally got a hold of urgent care that got me in. 4 months later, hundreds of phone calls, hours on hold, transfers to people or departments that dont answer, leaving volcemails to people who dont call back or leave a message saying, ( got your message call us) but then thier not there again. The new va hospital in aueora Colorado is a joke. Feel real sorry for anyone who has a serious illness or injury. The wait would surely kill them

  2. Bernard Trame April 29, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    There is some good, bad, and ugly in the VA system. I have seen it all. Eastern Colorado Health system is in severe need of a management overhaul. I am 100 T&P but had the fight for over 13 yrs just for them to change my status to Combat Veteran even though it’s reflected in DD214 and Bronze Star. The Dental is the worst of all. Had to get elected official involved just for them to do pre-cancer teeth extraction. Now fighting for two years for implants to hold dentures. Told me I was being treated by Dentist with experience treating oral cancer survivors. Found out later she was brand new to the Dental field. Of course that was after 5 months of mistakes. Told by more than one VA Dental surgeon the don’t do implants if veteran received over 4500 units of radiation. They never looked at my oncology records. Requested review: denied. Requested second opinion: denied. Now have Congressman involved so they are saying I never requested appeal because I never filled out Form 9, even though I sent many letters with same info. Being jerked around just because they can get away with it and there is absolutely no accountability. Happy for those Vets who haven’t had to deal with this junior high school games mentality. Even had to get radiation and chemo outside VA system because they were dragging there feet hoping I would become terminal. Still getting bills for copay. Have heard of vets committing suicide and their last letters noting the extreme frustration and run around in the V A system.

  3. Hugh Gordon Ross April 28, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    Mike – I’m with you brother, on all counts except for the suicide consideration. That would serve nobody well and you must remain strong, which you did.

    I remember in 2011 as the police car pulled under the banner in Kirkland Washington as they escorted me to overnight jail, then booted me out for trial some four months later. The banner read NO VETERAN SHALL BE HOMELESS IN KIRKLAND. I went homeless that first day. Why was I in jail? Not because of anything bad I did, not because of financial or other crimes, but because I confronted a drug dealer and full blown loser and he lied, brought other people into the scene and accused me of assault. It never happened, I assaulted no one, which came out later. Since this involved my recent move to his house (which he lied about, it was NOT his house), I was given a STAY AWAY order from that house. He disappeared. The owners wanted nothing to do with him, nor me, since I apparently moved in illegally. I did not, I had a rental contract with the lying drug dealer. I was homeless for four months.

    You can’t make up this stuff – this was real life and I was now homeless in the midst of the Bush era housing bubble burst that got me into this mess. Me, a responsible PO3 in the Navy, a previous successful businessman in Los Angeles, a devastating permanent injury (broken back) and now homeless on top of that. Whatta life. VA would do nothing for me, the SS would not give me disability retirement, but the Lutheran church reached out to me, assisted me legally, got my SS disability for me and assisted with the VA issues. That latter part never worked out, but I did become a GREEN member of the VA and had full care later. I’m now back in the saddle, living a productive life, and growing older, at 67 now.

    I guess the point of this is this whole HELP OUR VETS things, from local cities to the federal government. A lot of talking points, a lot of hoorah talk, but little results. 99% of the work is by you, the veteran – and they will throw every roadblock at you they can. The church, on the other hand, dealt with compassion and put great meaning in the words – NO VETERAN SHALL GO HOMELESS. Thank you St. Pauls of Bellevue, thank you. God Bless.

  4. Paul Scheel15 April 28, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    I wish I had known about the va programs I to got out in 1982
    Was forced out of a relationship I thought would be there
    My last deployment was 3 months sailing around port of calls
    Came back to port
    No one at the pier walked home at 1am from the base 5 miles
    To find another man in my bed he used my closet of clothes as his I became an acholic lost me home of 10 years was homeless sleeping on friends couches floors but that got old for friends so now I’m alone in a Navy town Norfolk VA where
    Being a veteran ment nothing to the people
    I lived in my car and worked a job 2.35 per hour
    Then the car was gone so I was on the street
    I took a bath at work bathroom sink the best I could do with a wash cloth slept in dumpsters in rain and snow door ways and parks in summer
    I’m now where I own a home have a great job and va health care now PTSD 70 % almost took my life a few times
    Today I’m here today I won another battle

  5. Jordan Morrison April 28, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    My experiences at the Buffalo, NY VA have been horrible, along with many veterans I know. Unwilling to see me, misdiagnosed an illness for 3 years, refused to see me in a timely fashion, prescribed the wrong medication landing me in the hospital, etc etc. This landed me having 13 visits to the ER and surgery just this past Monday-all due to the VA healthcare system’s atrocious manner in which many veterans are treated (or not treated). The care there got so bad I actually won the right to have outside coverage paid for by the VA due to their ineptitude. It also helped that my primary NP Nancy Arbeiter was taking selfies in sexually inappropriate poses on VA exam tables and posting them on Facebook.

    • Patrick Brysn May 6, 2021 at 7:36 pm

      I totally agreed with you on the Buffalo VA worse yet, try dealing with the Buffalo RO, they are just as bad, I with I didn’t have to use the VA care here in WesternNY at all, but I’m stuck with then, it’s a shame the upper level refuses to take more over site of theses VA medical facilities, they have screwed up my entire medical history, improper record keeping, poor oversight fm the director’s office, very poor run facility.

  6. Rosario April 28, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Had appointments for primary care in March= canceled. Contacted to reschedule got blood work done but, Dr. visit cancelled. Scheduled for April, meanwhile, thyroid acting up= canceled. Rescheduled for June for 2:30 pm. I did not believe them by this time, got letter they canceled my later time and picked an earlier time for me. I went by the opinion they would understand me better than civi medical personnel and now convinced there is some “picking and choosing” in Lakeland. So much for having the “Premium” status for being a war vet.

  7. Craig Girndt April 28, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    I’ve been trying just to get an appointment at the VA Hospital and cannot get it done. What is the deal? Why do you need my DD214? You cannot find me in the system with my SSN and Birth Certificate??? Very odd. I served 3 Active duty years with an honorable discharge. Why am I having so much trouble trying to get in for Medical Care? I don’t have insurance and need medical care. I also have hearing loss due to service-related duty but cannot get an assessment done. I will give accolades when they are earned, but so far this has been a complete disaster of assistance for anyone who has served, combat or non-combat. We as veterans were expected to give 125% all the time. The VA gives back…. ? Man up VA! It’s not the individuals who work in the system so much as it is the beurocrats and politicians to blame. Just some basic human decency from the tops would be helpful.

  8. Roscoe Clairborne April 28, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    I agree with the brother and saying about the VA they be late all they do is talk about where they going when they get off work you need an appointment you can’t get an appointment you need to get a hold of your doctor’s your medications not working you can’t even get a hold of your doctor then they give you medication like they’re playing games with you I got Health case was going on now and I and I can’t I can’t afford a doctor cuz I’m going through a divorce so you guys weren’t all that hype about what the VA is going to do for us when you get in the office so please Roscoe C Claiborne reason desperate

  9. Stanley A Stutzman April 28, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    I have been waiting for my 3rd shingles shot every since Jan 2020, but the VA has not sent me an appointment yet? I have change my phone # and I have notified the Goshen/Elkhart, IN VA, so why have they not made arrangements for my shot? By the way I have received both Covid 19 shots. Why am I repeating this non-event? Unless I look after my own affairs NO ONE else cares!

  10. Scott L. Royal April 28, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    It has been a horror show. Primary medical concern was dismissed just like civilian drs. Coming into the VA system in 2014 for homeless veterans I was immediately exposed to sexual harassment. This was dismissed by my then case manager from Vets Inc. I eneterred the VA with 24 years of continuous sobriety. I would have gotten better care if I had been drunk for the past 25 years. I have lived for nearly all the past 6 plus years, as a resident of two different homeless veteran places here in Mass. The second one has been an abusive shit show for the entire time here in Gardner. Staff, therapist, Va therapist all of them know of the abuse. And no one has shown up and made the hard decision to remove the bullies and thugs. The inhumane abusive shit show continues to this day. Policy proclaims safe and sober housing. That is a LIE. I had a VA suicide risk assessment in 2019. Today I was talking with people about getting a restraining order against one of my house mates. That was my day. I’m glad some have had a good experience. I have not. The VA needs to grow and investigate these homeless programs for veterans to ensure our safety. They owe us a safe place to reassemble our lives. Not a sht show for some for these people to make money off of us while they condone, enable, endorse and allow abuse. When the man that is 30 years sober is the one that is suicidal, then your system and local programs are the problem. I did the work to get and remain sober. Respect that or go to hell. Semper Fkin Fi.

  11. Michael Fabian Smith April 28, 2021 at 4:14 pm

    I’m a Vietnam era veteran turn down by the VA for home homeless veteran housing I’m a Vietnam era veteran I live in my car. Nobody has tried to help me? Why!

  12. Michael Fabian Smith April 28, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    I’m a Vietnam era veteran and I was turned down for housing I’m a homeless veteran living in my car ☹️

  13. Allan Foliart April 28, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    I’ve had medical conditions go untreated and undiagnosed properly for over ten years now… Recently I’ve had to threaten my VMC with family going to the Senate and House floor and the President directly before they actually called me to schedule appointments that they refuse to outsource, or treat because the v.a policies arn’t willing to take medical risks i’ll happily sign wavers for… Lost appointments from filing congressional inquiries and coverups lying to senators… .Gods Help them i’ve been suffering from migraines for ten years. Ten years of pushing my local vamc to figure out the cause. Only under my wife’s care doctors did i get answers… TMJ related and sinus… problems Ten YEARS of migraines. mouthguards for 4 years rather than treatment to the oral surgon. Ten years of fighting for answers. I have PTSD from trying to get medical care from the VAMC. I have No confidence in my local V.A If i could i’d outsource everything. I’ve gotten better care from our local healthcare hospital system. While these programs ARE amazing.. They don’t make up for walking into a V.A after an outsourced er surgery asking for gause… and the doctors being confused an hour later asking you 3 times over why you’re there and you’re only simple statement is “Gause… cause i had sinus surgery just” cause. The pharmacy won’t give it without a doctor’s sign off” and then security gets called when you question their competence with cursing because you’re so frustrated with the lack of intelligent conversational skills of a simple request… 3 times over.

  14. Eric Rice April 28, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    Mike, glad you received the help you needed. Just a point for you: Reagan wasn’t in office till January of 1981. He didn’t get us into a depression, he got us out of one! Reaganomics was not coined until after that. He got us out of the depression and gave the military and vets the biggest shot in the arm ecomomically than was ever given before or since! I remember the pay raise of October of 1981, 13% if my memory serves me correctly!

  15. David Trujillo April 27, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    I’ve been in the VA health care system for 20 years.100 per cent PTSD premenent and total service connected. All the care has been excellent and all the community referrals have been good as well.Mental health through VA and the Vet Center in my city have taught me ways if dealing with my ptsd and depression and aniexty , flashbacks,nightmares etc.No one entity or person is perfect but I have no complaints.

  16. Ricardo Lugo Ramos April 27, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    Puerto Rico VA Hospital has been a blessing and a gratify process during my journey has a patient; since 2001 and present. I thank God first for his guidance in pursuit of my health and VA benefits. When I first visit the Puerto Rico VA Hospital was in the transition of actualizing VA customer service general operations. Puerto Rico always has confronted a low income budget economy territory status (colony status). The service for VA veterans was affected by are colony status (territory). But for some reason which I believe that was a divine intervention (God) and Puerto Rico VA Hospital leadership; everything started to unfold in favor of the Island Veterans; and the general VA personnel. Communication started to move forward in congress and VA High leadership Administration; bringing a healthy budget to are Puerto Rico VA Hospital. There still area to keep sharping service for the welfares of the veterans and VA Hospital personnel in general. Hoping that in the future when Puerto Rico come to justice in the goal to become state no, 51. So God help us.

  17. Michael C Schoppert April 27, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    I m a Veteran always pick the VA. I felt lost when I got out with a divorce following an who could blame her. VETERANS NEED SEPARATE HEALTH CARE. THE DOCTORS UNDERSTAND US A LITTLE BETTER BECAUSE I M IN A BROTHER HOOD FOR LIFE. GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES.

  18. Bil. Alvernaz April 27, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    I’ve got a testimonial story about why I switched to the VA after years of seeing the “other guys” (i.e., healthcare systems that treat you “herding cattle” with no compassion, caring, or any sense of humanity). I’m constantly impressed with the professionalism of the VA doctors and staff. You know they really care and it is the best health care system I’ve ever been in. The VA sets the standard for taking care of people, “fixing things” and staying ahead of the curve to keep me in the best physical shape as possible. I can’t say enough great things about the VA.

  19. Carmen Jones-Wilder April 27, 2021 at 4:47 pm

    I am truly happy for Mike, and that the VA helped get him back on his feet! Unfortunately it don’t happen nearly enough as it should, Veterans deserve it. I used the VA Healthcare system for the past 20 years. I had the same primary care provider for the past 15 years. I thought I had hit the jackpot, thought the medical care I was receiving was good. Recently I had a terrible experience at a VAMC. For 6 weeks I went to the VAMC Emergency Department for a painful toe. Due to their negligence and coverup, my toe became infected and turned gangrenous. Not one of the ED physicians told me my toe was gangrenous until I said I wanted a second opinion. I went across the street to a civilian hospital and was told my toe had to be amputated immediately. Within 72 hours I had been diagnosed and operated on. After the amputation I got a copy of my VA medical records and discovered fraudulent, inaccurate, incomplete info. What the doctors were telling me and what the doctors put in my medical records differed greatly! I also discovered I had diseases my primary care doctor never told me about but showed up in previous test I had taken. My life has been cut short because of those physicians. I have zero trust in the VA healthcare system and the medical profession as a whole.

  20. Jose Rodriguez April 27, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    I have been in the VA system since 1971. I have been lucky with them. No complaints with my medical treatments. From shrapnel removal, heart attack, knee replacements, diabetes, hearing, and the latest covid treatment. My stays at the hospitals have all been a good experience. I have been treated at NYC, NEW JERSEY, and San Antonio Tx. Hospitals. Not 1 has been a bad experience. I have learned to be patient and realize I’m not the only veteran in the system. Be patient and allow the VA administration do their job.

  21. Leo D Jones April 27, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    I hear some bad comments regarding the VA.
    I can not acquiesce to that. My experiences with the VA have been, by far, superior to that of private medical care. Sure, working with an enormous health care entity like the VA hasn’t been 100% problem free. I’d say about 90% of my experiences with the VA have been exemplary. They have treated me with respect and competence. I see the hoops my wife has to jump through in dealing with Blue Cross and various private health insurance behemoths, and with the VA I am not exposed to any of that. I give the VA 5 stars out of 5 stars.

  22. Patrick Bryan April 27, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    I can give over 100 reasons to avoid the VA health system, but the VA won’t even allow me to give the facts as to why??? The VA Sec and Under Sec stay hidden from us the Veteran, so they don’t have to answer questions!!! When and how can we get honest, truthful answers if all the VA web sites are UNMONITORED???

  23. Leonard w Roberson April 27, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    I had a appt at LHI on the 5 of April at 8 am these folks where late getting to work they said I would have to make another appt, All I have got is the run around, no appt yet the VA use theses folks for some kind disability, there in Charlotte NC, why

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