Butler VA Health Care System
The VA Is Working To End Veteran Homelessness
September 2, 2010
(BUTLER, Pa.) – Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki has pledged to end Veteran homelessness in five years. Roughly 23 percent of all homeless adults are Veterans.
“Most of the homeless Veterans I see have the same issues,” said Peter Loeb. “The majority have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or difficulty dealing with their health or mental issues.”
Peter is a certified recovery specialist and homeless peer support employee at VA Butler Healthcare. He understands the difficulties homeless veterans face firsthand. After nearly twenty-four years of dealing with depression, addiction and homelessness, Peter was able to get help through the VA.
“I got out of the Navy in 1976 and moved to California,” said Peter. “I was using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate my depression.”
In an attempt to run away from a methamphetamine addiction, he returned to his hometown of Butler. After running out of hospitality from friends and family, he found himself living in the woods behind Butler County Community College for two months.
“There are a lot of these homeless communities in Butler,” said Peter.
Eventually, he was arrested for various alcohol related incidents and found himself in jail. It was there that a parole officer suggested he try the Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment (DRRTP) program at VA Butler Healthcare.
“The trouble is that when you have a problem everyone sees it but you,” said Peter. With more than 18 months sober and lots of support from the VA, Peter has transformed his life. He is building bridges with his family, helping other homeless Veterans and taking care of his health.
“The VA saved my life,” said Peter. “Luckily homelessness is a priority for the VA so our Veterans don’t have to struggle with the life I did.”
“Historically, most of our homeless Veterans were Vietnam Era Vets who were struggling with behavioral health and drug issues,” said Dan Slack, Homeless Coordinator for VA Butler Healthcare. “The new Veteran homeless are suffering from a lot of the same issues, including PTSD; and now the economy is playing a part too. Some of our homeless Veterans are working hard but just can’t make it.”
Robert Shoop has almost never been without a job. The 54 year old Butler-native has worked as a truck driver, mushroom farmer, tank mechanic, and air conditioning unit installer for a contractor. He successfully ended years of alcohol abuse on his own. For the past ten years, Robert Shoop has also been struggling with chronic homelessness.
“I didn’t have a home, but I always found a place to stay,” said Robert. The Army Veteran struggled daily to earn enough money to pay his child support and support himself. As a self-confessed “couch hopper,” he said it was easy when he was drinking.
“When you are drinking, you can always find friends. Misery loves company,” said Robert. “The problem is the next morning, your problems are still there and your ‘so called’ friends aren’t.”
In 2009, the downturn in the economy left him jobless and homeless again; he asked his family for some assistance so he could move back to Butler.
“One thing about drinking is that you lose a lot of family,” said Robert, “but as hard as it was, I asked my brother for help and he did. Then he called Dan Slack at the VA, because he knew I was going to be homeless up here too.”
Mr. Slack was able to sign Robert into the VA system, which he had never used before. “Everyone was nice and they took great care of me,” said Robert. “I now have temporary housing and am participating in [compensated work therapy]. I am even interviewing for some jobs.”
VA Butler Healthcare coordinates and supports various local, state and federal organizations to help Veterans return to independent living. There are Veteran-specific HUD programs, transitional living facilities, vocational retraining opportunities and more.
If you know of a Veteran who is homeless, or at a risk of becoming homeless, contact Dan Slack at 724-285-2439 or Dan.Slack@va.gov. More information on the Veteran Homeless program can be found at http://www.butler.va.gov/services/Homeless.asp.
VA Butler Healthcare is the provider of choice for over 17,000 veterans throughout Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Lawrence and Mercer counties; and parts of Ohio. With over 600 employees, VA Butler Healthcare provides primary care, specialty care, mental health and social supports services to our nation’s veterans. For information about VA Butler Healthcare programs and services, log on to http://www.butler.va.gov. Media queries and requests should be directed to David Virag at (724)-285-2576 or David.Virag@va.gov.