Crash landings - Page 3

Is the new wave of war veterans getting the help it needs?

"For a week, they watched me, then they gave me my weapon back."

He's convinced that the best solutions to the challenges facing this latest wave of PTSD-afflicted vets lie in "listening to stories from the mouths of people with it," he said.

Bobbi Rosenthal, regional coordinator for V.A.'s homeless program, said that an estimated 20 percent of the 6,514 people recorded in San Francisco's 2009 homeless count are veterans.

Anita Yoskowitz, administrative site manager for the V.A.'s homeless services center on Third Street, said 90 percent of the vets who use the clinic' showers, laundry facilities, and computer lab have PTSD.

And while many of the center's clients are still from the Vietnam and Desert Storm era, the average age is starting to come down, she said, as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan begin to trickle in.

Veterans can come to the clinic every day, but those who are not clean and sober are limited to three times a week. When folks come for medical care, Yoskowitz said, "the clinic is on the look out for mental health problems."

Jacob Hoff, who volunteers at the center's computer lab, said that from conversations he overhears, it's clear that coming back is hard. "There's a lot of survivor's guilt. I can really tell the young kids who are coming in and learning how to be homeless. The older guys tell them where to go for food."

Donald Fontenot, who enlisted in 1980, was on the computer looking for housing when he shared his story. He enlisted when he was 18 and then messed up his knees jumping out of a C-141 jet, so he understands the stress of no longer being able to perform.

"You are young and strong and then all of a sudden, you can't do these things," said Fontenot, who was living in his car behind the clinic until it got towed by the police. "So I wound up more homeless."

Currently staying with a friend, Fontenot recalled meeting a Vietnam vet who likes to walk around Golden Gate Park at night with a pistol. "It gives him the feeling of walking around in the jungle," said Fontenot, who is searching for suitable Section 8 housing — another unique challenge for PTSD-afflicted veterans in San Francisco.

For some, the road to recovery leads them from the streets of San Francisco back into the arms of their family. One such local family shared their story with the Guardian and we decided to shield their identities for privacy. Mike recalled the dramatic change he saw in his brother, Joe, who joined the Marines directly after 9/11, after he tore up his shoulder in Iraq.

"His whole mentality, even if he didn't support the war in Iraq, was of a to-die-for-it Marine," said Mike, recalling the hurt and disappointment in Joe's voice after he had two surgeries, and couldn't return with his unit to combat.

Mike said his brother's state of mind worsen after he had been out of active duty for three years, and that the first signs that his brother might have PTSD were night sweats and an inability to pay attention.

"But how can you expect soldiers to pay attention to isolated thoughts, words, and action, when they are or have been immersed in culture that teaches you to 'walk, talk, shoot, shit'?" Mike asked.

Joe was homeless in San Francisco for stints in 2007, but never longer than a week. Mike recalled how things came to a head when the two brothers got into a fight one night after Mike closed the bar where he worked.

"Here we are, I'm 30 and he is 28, in a fist fight, and I told [Joe], 'I think you're losing your mind.' And he said, 'then save me,' lying on my kitchen floor at four in the morning. But then that was it, no more conversation."

Joe soon checked himself into a couple of private facilities where he berated psychiatrists for not knowing about military combat zones and could always check himself out.