Back From Iraq And Suddenly Out On The Streets

By: McKenzie Martin Email
By: McKenzie Martin Email

Something we can all think about the next time we see a homeless person on the streets, one in every four homeless people in El Paso County once served our county in uniform. Now there are an increasing number of veterans from the on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who come home, leave the military, and wind up with nothing.

Those who work closely with these veterans say there are several reasons why they end up on the streets. It has to do with the economy, the lack of jobs out there, but more importantly one in three veterans suffers from some sort of mental disorder and many get mis-diagnosed or don't get help soon enough.

It's hard for Matthew McLaughlin to even talk about the two years he spent in the warzone.

"I'm on medication for PTSD and for depression," McLaughlin said.

In those days he was known as Sgt. McLaughlin, stationed out of Fort Lewis, Washington, he did two 12-month tours to Iraq before being medically discharged in May of 2007.

"I had an injury that caused nerve damage in my right foot," McLaughlin said.

He says the transition out of the military was sudden and shocking.

"I was going from Sgt. McLaughlin to just plain old Matt," he said.

Confused about what to do with his life, he moved to Pueblo and that’s when he says things started to fall apart.

"I had a relationship in Pueblo, it went sour and I reverted back to alcoholism," McLaughlin said.

Soon he says his girlfriend kicked him out and with no job and no place to go he took to the streets.

"For 5 months I was living out of my car," he said.

He says he was drinking so much, he barely even remembers how he got through each day.

"Alcohol induced, I don't remember too much about that time. The nights I do remember were plagued by PTSD nightmares,” McLaughlin said.

He eventually heard about the Crawford House, a homeless shelter in Colorado Springs for veterans. McLaughlin moved in, in August, determined to turn his life around and he says he finally asked for help for his PTSD, something he was afraid to do before.

"I was afraid that my unit would look down on me. Now I'm getting the help I need but I had to swallow a huge lump of pride first,” McLaughlin said.

Government officials say post traumatic stress disorder is one of the leading causes of homelessness among veterans and many more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD than veterans of previous wars.

"These guys have seen war two and three times and it's traumatized them to where they don't even want to talk about it," said Vicky Pettis, Program Director at the Crawford House.

She has dedicated her life to helping veterans like McLaughlin get the help they need.

"If they are hurting or are not capable of finding a job, they aren't going to work, they aren't able to work," Pettis said.

"Don't wait till your a vet, the moment you come back there are services available," McLaughlin said.

Services that he says saved his life and got him off the streets.

Since we interviewed McLaughlin he's moved out of the Crawford House and just last week he moved to Tennessee to start a new life there.

As for the Crawford House, they are trying to help as many veterans as possible but they still have a waiting list.

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  • by Very Concern Location: Texas on Nov 14, 2008 at 10:33 AM
    How sad that after all that they go through our men and women have very little help They are our sons and daughters that put their lives on hold and being treated like this But let say this begins when they are still in the Military when they come back if they ask for this services that supposely are given to them they are looked down on and given very little help because they will bring their units down so what are they to do Can anyone image how it is to live with this emotions Our sons and daughters are give a direct order and have to follow it or other wise face the consequentes Yes they have the info as to where to go but if they use it they are very little to work with I know because a person close to me is having this problems does not have little help and has been told to keep it to himself his appts. are being prolong as much as possible and he falling into a deep depession he has no one here for support his family lives in Texas he is station here I cannot give his name
  • by Anon Location: c/s on Nov 13, 2008 at 10:16 AM
    To Soldier: Thank you for your service to our country and you are not a "freak". The freaks are the spolied rich brats who think the world owes them something. You do fit into society - you will find your place - and I do think Uncle Sam needs to take care of it's own, especially when they entice enlisted soldiers with a better life in the military - it is not all it is cracked up to be and Uncle Sam needs to be there when soldiers get out to help those who need help - don't let Uncle Sam off the hook so easily. Take advantage of your GI bill - my husband did and we are so much better off - you will be too!
  • by I was a Soldier Location: CO on Nov 13, 2008 at 08:01 AM
    It is what you make of it. I went into the military I was out of control at 17 (troubled home and poor)...never took anything serious but for some reason the military 'clicked.' Saw awful things as most do on any deployment; however, when I ETS'd I suddenly realized that after 10 years there is no free lunch out there- and if it was free, I probably did not want it. There are two things the military should spend more time on...enforcing education and proper financial management. A $700 car payment leads to trouble and nice clothes are just that. You never have the end in mind. You have to "soldier up" deal with the mental issues (and man, everyday it hurts, sometimes a lot) and find your own way. Very few care, most have their own problems and when something like the Crawford House comes along - well that’s just cool. It is what you make of it – you are a former soldier with issues that most don’t understand. You end up working for some good looking rich kid who took over daddy’s business and calls you a freak because your logic is twisted and rational undefined – I have never fit in and probably never will – but I served. Things seem to be better today than yesterday.
  • by Jan Weil Location: Colorado Springs on Nov 12, 2008 at 08:22 AM
    It is sad to think that our Veterans from Iraq and Afganistan are going through the same conflicts and emotional distress that our Vets from Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Bosnia,and WWII vets have endured for years. The BIG difference now is that at least most of these soldiers are informed of the places in which they can receive help. The majority of all other war survivors from previous conflicts were never advised of where to seek help. My thoughts and prayers are with all Veterans from all wars past and present. My only wish is that the previous Vets need to be considered first; as some of these men and women have suffered silently for 40 years or more and their time is running out.
  • by catherine Location: colorado springs on Nov 11, 2008 at 09:51 PM
    Thanks for reporting this story! It sounds like Crawford House is providing for a great need within the community. We need more resources like this one. Many thanks to the people providing this resource. And on this Veteran's Day my deepest regards to ALL the VETERANS, that have served this country, as well as active duty military and their families.
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