Today we are repeating a CTV interview with Jim Lowther, founder of V.E.T.S. (Veterans Emergency Transition Services), and his partner Roland Lawless. They are the leaders in the growing story covering homeless vets. A new Western University study has focused on 54 homeless veterans and the results of their study is bringing more public attention to the problem. The following is a repost from CTV. BONNIE
Date originally posted: Wed. Nov. 9 2011 10:48 AM ET
A new study of Canada‘s homeless veterans shows many military personnel tumble into a spiral of alcoholism and other addictions after their service in the army, air force or navy.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Western Ontario, focused on 54 homeless veterans.
Most of the subjects struggled with alcoholism that developed through years of heavy drinking in the military, but many also lacked everyday skills such as financial planning that simply weren’t developed during their regimented military life.
When they left the military they often felt abandoned and didn’t know where to turn for help.
The findings don’t come as a surprise to a group of former military personnel who are reaching out to their fellow veterans to offer help and support as they adjust to civilian life.
“It seems like when you get out of the military, that’s it, you’re on your own. If you have a claim you can put into Veterans Affairs they will help you but other than that you go back to the provincial system,” said Jim Lowther, a veteran of two tours to Bosnia and part of the first wave of Canadian troops to enter Afghanistan after 9-11.
Lowther is the founder of Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS), a movement that has chapters established in all the Maritime provinces with new locations starting in Ottawa, Calgary and B.C.
Their purpose is to help veterans struggling to adjust to normal life.
“We figure we’re working with a couple of hundred homeless vets across the country, it’s a lot,” Lowther told CTV’s Canada AM.
And that number will only increase, Lowther predicts, with the return of Canada’s combat troops in Afghanistan who are now adjusting to life back on home soil.
In addition to addictions, he said, many troops come home struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental illness resulting from their experiences overseas.
Lowther and his team use a “boots-on-the-ground approach” — searching for veterans among the homeless, rather than waiting for them to come through their doors.
Once they find them they provide the immediate necessities of life, such as food, shelter and clothing. After they are stabilized they connect them with programs and transition services available through Veterans Affairs Canada that fit their specific needs.
The eventual goal is to set up transitional housing to help homeless veterans get off the street, find work, and adjust to normal life.
Roland Lawless wasn’t homeless but admits he was in a bad place when he first met Lowther.
Lawless, a veteran who served in Bosnia and had a 20-year military career before he was released for medical reasons, suffers from PTSD, alcoholism and a gambling addiction.
That perfect storm turned his life into a desperate roller coaster ride after he left the military in 2002, he told Canada AM. Finally, at a particularly low point, he called Lowther after his doctor gave him his number.
That decision may have saved his life.
“My last trip down I grabbed onto the hand of Mr. Jim Lowther and he helped me back up onto my feet, straightened me out, gave me a purpose in life that I had been looking for… without him I shudder to think where I might be today,” Lawless said.
Since that first meeting Lawless has gotten involved with VETS, working to help other former military personnel dealing with similar issues. He is now the vice-president of the organization.
Susan Ray, a nursing professor at Western who interviewed 54 homeless veterans in the first academic study of its kind in Canada, found there is a gap in the support services offered to those returning home.
But often, she said, the problems don’t emerge until a few years after they come home, long after Veterans Affairs has moved on.
“For a lot of them it was from drinking, which started in the military, escalated over time and 10 years later you would see the alcoholism, and through that they would lose their job, their relationships, their housing,” Ray said in a news release.
Her research was funded by the federal government and the results were submitted to Veterans Affairs. Among the recommendations, Ray said transitional services should be extended into years, rather than the current six months.
The transition plan should include the teaching of life skills, improving mental health and identifying addiction and alcoholism early on, she recommended.
The vets Ray spoke with also said they would benefit from more visits from outreach workers from Veterans Affairs, helping them navigate the red tape required to qualify for government support.
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