I must apologize; yesterday was rough and I wasn’t myself. You see, I met two military wives and my encounters left me feeling powerless, drained and angry. I apologize if I was curt and impatient but I just wanted to cry and process what had happened.
The night before I had a telephone conversation with a frightened woman; a woman who had served in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and who was now experiencing homelessness. She whispered and explained that she couldn’t talk or she might be discovered. I asked her if she was in any danger and she hesitated. She whispered, “It’s just… If I leave I can’t get back in. I have to stay here until morning.” I tried to offer her shelter but she rushed me off the phone and said she would meet me in the AM.
She arrived at my office at 7:30 AM, she was gaunt and anxious like a rabbit. It was hard for her to climb the stairs. She didn’t look like a warrior. It took a while, but slowly over ninety minutes I was able to get her painful story. She’s a veteran and the wife of a well ranking soldier. The two served together and over time the experience of war changed him and he began to beat her. “Don’t ask don’t tell wasn’t just for gays in the military,” she said without looking at me. “It’s for beatings, rape, anything… “ I waited for her to finish the sentence. “…Dishonorable,” she whispered as tears streamed down her cheeks and she looked at the floor. “I tried to get help through the proper channels but I was treated like a troublemaker. He was a good soldier so they turned me into the bad one. I felt like I was in some sort of cult. I couldn’t be transferred and he wasn’t being stopped so I felt I had no choice but to terminate my contract with the military and so they gave me this.” She slid her discharge paper across the table; the medals of bravery and service were listed but she was discharged under Other Than Honorable status. I felt the blood rush to my face and my heart pound. “I got away and tried to start over but somehow he always found me. He did this to me,” and she removed her upper denture. I held back tears. “The last time he found me he strangled me and left me for dead. When I woke up I left with only what I was wearing. To me it feels like it was just yesterday.” I asked her how long ago the last attack occurred and she said it was two months prior. For over sixty days this traumatized human had been sneaking into heated garages, and other places not meant for habitation, always looking over her shoulder. Once, she attempted to get housing for veterans but the organization she went to for help apologized and referred her to me; they told her they only help veterans with an honorable discharge. Fortunately, I have a resource to help this woman and we will circumvent the unjust housing barrier she experienced until now. However, I can’t do much about the unjust barriers themselves.
See, things don’t change much over time; and the more they change in little ways, the more they stay the same in big ways. I sat with an elderly, impoverished, black veteran a few weeks ago. He has a “General” discharge because he demanded justice while he was being abused and harassed by his white barracks mates at an Army base in the deep south. “Back then things were worse,” he told me. “Some of them boys were soldiers and Klan. They didn’t want no black man in their barracks so they just kept putting me in the hospital. So, because of that, the military said I was undesirable.” I’ll do what I can for him but he isn’t entitled to much because of his discharge status.
Yesterday, the final blow to my sense of honor and integrity was a call of bad news I got from Social Services for Veteran Families. I have been trying to get a veteran’s widow out of shelter and into a housing program. She receives her husband’s VA survivor benefits of barely $700 a month but has been denied housing because it is reserved for families of vets who are alive. I haven’t told her yet because I just couldn’t. I can’t find the words yet to explain professionally why she must remain homeless in the country her husband fought for. I often can’t find the words to even explain to myself how what I am trying to do makes any sense at all. I am trying to make something good out of something dysfunctional. This isn’t about the VA, or SSVF, or black or white nor man versus woman. For me, this is about a cluster fuck of humanity in a God absent world where everything we try to improve upon gets bogged down in the external mire of everything that’s internally wrong with us as a species.
I know; this is a feeling but not the whole truth. I feel what I feel, but I know that we (people like me) collectively end homelessness one person at a time wherever we can. We battle injustice one issue at a time. We toast our small victories and we live to fight again. All of us humans, you included, are fighters of a cause; a prejudiced, impassioned, personal cause and intellectually I can respect that. I get it that some people have their reasons for disliking blacks, or women, or the homeless and I haven’t fought in their shoes and I don’t know what has formed their prejudices. All day yesterday I was confused and held back an urge to seethe. I didn’t know who or what to fight and didn’t know what to fight for. Next week I’ll be rested and I’ll climb the stairs to my office like a warrior. As for yesterday, I must apologize; yesterday was rough and I wasn’t myself. I apologize if I was curt and impatient but I just wanted to cry and process what had happened.