Homeless. Veteran. These two words don’t belong together. How could someone who is willing to die for our country wind up on the streets, kicked to the curb after their service? I’m on a mission to draw as many of Alabama’s homeless veterans as possible and let them tell their stories. We were honored to spend a day in August with more than 60 veterans from all over the state who are struggling with PTSD at the American Legion Veterans Retreat near Wetumpka, Alabama. Army vet C.G. and several others agreed to share their stories about PTSD and homelessness with Reckon and AL.com.
C.G., U.S. Army, 1977-81
“I had been suffering for all these years. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I didn’t know I had post traumatic stress disorder. And that’s why I say my country declared war on me.”
C.G. struggled with an unknown enemy that left her and her children homeless “many, many times” from 1984 until she was diagnosed with PTSD in 2007. “Sometimes I left my children with family members. Suicidal. I was very suicidal. The one thing that kept me from killing myself - I was on probation for four years - and I went to my probation officer, went into his office drunk and said I’m about to commit suicide. He said, ‘How selfish can you be with two children to commit suicide?’ And since then ... I still had thoughts every now and then, but I couldn’t do that to my sons."
In 2007, 26 years after she left the Army, C.G. sought help, was diagnosed with PTSD and started receiving treatments. It was a turning point. “Now I could put a name on why I was acting the way I was," she says. “The Tuskegee VA saved my life.”
C.G. grew up wanting to be in the military, like her father. After graduating from high school in Germany, she attended the University of Maryland in Munich, then joined the Army.
“I went through basic training in Fort McClelland, Alabama. I was in the first cycle after the Women’s Army Corps. From there I did AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Lee, Virginia. I’m proud to say I was on the basketball team and my AIT won the post championship." C.G. was sent to Hanau, Germany, where she was a jet fuel petroleum supply specialist.
“I had a stellar career in Germany. Many, many awards. But I had spent so much time in Germany with my father being in the military, I wanted to be stateside. So I re-enlisted for Fort Lewis, Washington. From the moment I stepped onto Sea-Tac - Seattle Tacoma Airport - it was like there was a dark cloud over me.
“While at Fort Lewis, I met a lady and she became my girlfriend. After a while, I went to my company commander and told him I was gay. I wanted to get out of the military. What he had me do was bring in females - he needed proof, in other words.”
The company commander refused to release her. Life in the Army for C.G. went downhill quickly from there. "We had a movement to Yakima, Washington - which is where the whole battalion moves to another place. I took all my military gear and turned it in like I’m going to the movement. Then I got really sick and I didn’t go. I went to Seattle where I was diagnosed with scarlet fever. Now this had been going on for about six months - hands peeling, skin tore up around my neck. I was treated for scarlet fever and went back to my unit. 23 days AWOL. My company commander decided they were going to court martial me for missing a movement. But before I went to trial I was placed in a holding detachment for 3 months. After my court martial, I went to jail in the stockade. They flew my father in - he was still in the military - from Fort Benning, Georgia, to my court martial. When they found me guilty, my father came back and visited me in my cell. "My father was Sgt. First Class, and he has to come to my trial and see his daughter locked up for ... basically no reason. I had an honorable discharge from my first enlistment. They wanted to give me a dishonorable from my second one ... actually went with ‘undesirable’, then six months later it was upgraded to ‘general under honorable conditions.’ But during all of that, after all these years, I had no idea I had PTSD.
"When you’re 22, 23, 24 years old, you have no idea how to fight back against the government. I got out in 1981. I ran for years, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I almost got killed. I almost killed myself. All these years, I missed out on my children’s life a lot, and they missed out on me. I sent my parents through all that. I can just imagine how my father felt ... so I’m working through everything, but it’s very painful. I’ve only been able to talk about it the last few years. "My DD-214 says ‘Service member engaged in immoral acts.’ It’s on there to this day. Nowadays, you can be transgender, you can be gay in the military. You can have that lifestyle. But why does my DD-214 have to have ‘immoral acts?’ Immoral acts sounds like I’m some kind of deviant person, and I’m not. I want that corrected.
“And I want everybody that feels like there’s no one there for them, that are in a similar situation, there is help for you, there’s definitely help, but you have to recognize it. And don’t run from it. Because it will destroy your life. It could destroy your family, your children’s life. Please get help. Please."
Veterans Crisis Line - 1-800-273-8255 press 1
Do you know a veteran in Alabama who is or has been homeless and may be willing to share their story? Send me an email – Jdcrowe@al.com. For homeless housing assistance in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, contact Housing First @ (251)-450-3345. For the Birmingham area, contact PriorityVeteran.org @ (205) 458-8920. In the Huntsville area, visit Stand Down together Huntsville, Inc. at www.standdownhsv.org, or call 256-527-9643. Or call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838.