Back From Iraq And Suddenly Out On The Streets

By: McKenzie Martin Email
By: McKenzie Martin Email
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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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