PTSD vet ‘chooses’ homelessness
I found this in the Air Force Times
By Brandon Stahl – The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Oct 16, 2007 11:03:14 EDT
DULUTH, Minn. – A bowl of corn flakes and room-temperature milk sits in front of Kevan Boman, 52, at a table in the Duluth Union Gospel Mission. His eyes flip down for a second, his lips purse and twist into a slight frown – just another reminder of what his life has become.
“This is breakfast,” he says as his eyes shift up to the acrid cafeteria, not wanting any of the other sad, tired faces of destitute and homeless people to get too close to him. As he eats, he reminisces about what his life once was. He was a military man for 27 years, a veteran of two wars who retired as a decorated officer. He was a nurse, a proud husband and father of three daughters, once so wealthy that he donated thousands of dollars to the very soup kitchens where he now eats.
Now, he lives in a car. It was other cars, before those were stolen or repossessed. In between were unlocked garages, tool sheds and apartment building basements, gas station bathrooms, drug houses or the couches of his daughters’ homes. Before all that, before he had to sneak into hospital and gas station bathrooms to bathe and groom himself, before the drugs and the suicide attempts, it was a three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car-garage home in a tree-lined Duluth neighborhood with his family.
That was his life three years ago, before his mind was overwhelmed by the guilt and shame from post-traumatic stress disorder, and he walked out on it all.
Since then, he has lived on the streets, but it doesn’t have to be that way. He could take his military disability checks for a tax-free $4,400 a month, get an apartment and start his life over. But he won’t. He says he would rather give his money away, to his kids, to friends, to just about anyone who asks for it. He says he would rather punish himself.
“I haven’t made peace with myself,” he says, pausing for a moment as his eyes drop again, disappointment stretching across his face. “This is my penance. I don’t let God forgive me. I don’t know why I do this. I have to.”
On any given night, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 200,000 homeless veterans across the country, and about 400,000 veterans experience homelessness over the course of a year. About 97 percent of them are men, and they account for 23 percent of the total homeless population.
(Oldtimer’s Note: Actually male veterans make up 43 percent of the male homeless but only 27% of the male population!)
There’s no easy answer to why there are so many homeless veterans, though 45 percent suffer from mental health problems and substance abuse.
“Some people develop alcohol abuse or dependence as they try to treat themselves,” said Dr. Ira Katz, VA’s national chief consultant for mental health. “Then the two conditions together can lead to difficulties with work and social relationships that could lead, in turn, to unemployment, separation or divorce, and homelessness.”
Still, he said, it seems almost like an alien concept to him to suggest someone would choose to be homeless.
“I’m not sure that homelessness is a choice,” Katz said. Instead, he suggests that a situation like Boman’s may be a complication of PTSD.
“People think they are making a choice,” said Phil Ringstrom, a counselor at the Duluth Vet Center. “If they could flip a switch to make themselves better, they’d flip the switch. They’re not choosing this. They’re enduring.”
So it’s debatable as to whether Boman chooses to live in his car.
(this is a long article and I encourage you to read the rest of this story at the link above)
Oldtimer’s comment: Kevan Boman is not alone out there. PTSD is a common ailment for those who have been in combat, often also for women veterans who have been abused in the service. See this article for more on PTSD – PTSD – Some Help for Veterans – information fact sheet to help recognize the symptoms, and includes other useful information.