Veterans living in woods prompt concern from area residents
VA Officer: Sometimes, they don't want the VA to come out; it's not our place to make them
After learning about two alleged homeless veterans believed to be living in the Mark Twain forest in a tent, a group of Barry Countians expressed concern on social media.
According to the Barry County Sheriff's Department, one of the two veterans was picked up in town by the police and taken to jail for a previous traffic citation, then later returned to the woods. The Department declined to comment on the man, other than to state that officers were looking into obtaining assistance for him.
In a Facebook thread, a group of posters discussed helping the veterans, such as providing supplies, or even just bringing a cup of hot coffee to keep them warm.
"I'd like to visit with him and see how he is surviving or just take him something he may need," said Cassville resident Michael Hall.
Others expressed concern about PTSD and the potential for flashbacks in response to hunters' gunshots, while others cited concern about suicide.
According to 22KILL, a nonprofit organization with a network of resources for veterans across the country, in 2012, the Veterans Administration (VA) released a suicide data report that found an average of 22 veterans die by suicide each day.
One of a veteran's biggest challenges, the organization states on its website, is finding a sense of purpose after their service.
"Often times, veterans will come to realize that all they really needed was the brotherhood and camaraderie that they've been missing ever since leaving the military," A spokesperson on the site said. "The 22KILL 'Tribe' allows veterans to connect with like-minded individuals and gives them the opportunity to get involved with community events and projects, and be a part of something great."
Despite plenty of concern about the two veterans in the woods, they may not want to be found, according to one poster.
Regardless, the situation prompts discussion about why American veterans, whom their government is charged with meeting their needs after serving their country, are living in the woods in a tent, and in bitterly cold temperatures.
In President Trump's State of the Union address Jan. 30, he listed improved care for U.S. veterans as one of his goals, including giving them the option to choose their own care.
"Why can't we help the people who gave us our freedom?" Hall stated.
An abundance of state and federal agencies do exist for veterans, but they can be challenging for a family member or friend to wade through, let alone a veteran in crisis.
According to Wanda Shull, public affairs officer for the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, based in Fayetteville, Ark., any homeless veteran in the Barry County area in need of housing, health care or basic necessities can call or visit the Veterans Clinic in Mt. Vernon.
"The VA Clinic would be a first stop I would want for my family," Shull said.
For after-hours crisis situations, Shull recommended the Veterans Crisis Line.
"Sometimes, people don't want VA services, but if a veteran feels like they have no place to go, he [or she] should call that line," Shull said. Or, they can go to the clinic and let them know they're a veteran and want to enroll, and they'll get them connected to the homeless program."
Homelessness among veterans is acknowledged, and one of the VAs biggest priorities, Shull said, which even attempts to find homeless veterans through a 'point-in-time' count conducted each year to show the number of homeless persons in the state.
"The count is a huge priority, because we have so many resources available [for homeless veterans]," Shull said. "When you think of a veteran moving into a home, they need dishes, towels, furniture, soap, etc., and we work with the community to obtain supplies.
"In Northwest Arkansas, we have Operation Reboot, where we get items donated like a bed or couch. We have so many programs at the VA, such as vouchers with HUD for housing, supplies, grants for paying first months' rent and getting utilities set up, and we provide case management for as long as a veteran needs it."
Community-based veterans service organizations like the American Legion, the VFW and the Elks Lodge also exist to help meet 'right-now' needs that a government agency might not be able to respond to as quickly.
"Those groups are made up of advocates on the street for veterans and they are invaluable," Shull said. "The VA works closely with them because it's a mutual goal to make sure veterans get health care and housing if they want to be housed. Sometimes, they don't want the VA to come out, and it's not our place to make them."
Michelle Reinmiller, social services worker for the homeless veterans program at the Mt. Vernon clinic, said the location is a 'one-stop clinic' for any veteran in Southwest Missouri, and can provide financial assistance to help rehouse or maintain housing.
"We have a grant called SSVF (Supportive Services for Veterans Programs)," Reinmiller said. "We are not typically limited to geography, so if a veteran has a substance abuse issue, there are programs they can use regardless. That's a good thing about VA health care if a veteran is traveling, they can go to their closest VA Center."
For a veteran living in Barry County, that would be Mt. Vernon, or Fayetteville, Ark., but the location and choosing to accept help, is up to them.
"Ultimately, it is their choice," Reinmiller said.
Following is a list of veteran resources:
VA Clinic, Mt. Vernon; 417-466-4000
The Missouri Veterans Commission in Monett; 417-235-3207
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2203 in Shell Knob; 417-858-2150
VA Clinic, Fayetteville, Ark.; 479-443-4301, or 479-582-7152
Combat Call Center; 1-877-War-Vets
Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, press 1
Chat online at: www.veteranscrisisline.net
Call 911, and request an on-duty veteran
Irwin Easley Post 118 American Legion, Cassville, 417-847-7312
Michael Clark, VA Clinic case manager for Barry County, 417-624-3790