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The number of homeless veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is on the rise in San Diego, and their faces, as you might expect, are not the faces most of us associate with homelessness.
A few weeks ago I spoke briefly with Darcy Pavich, chaplain at the Veterans Village of San Diego and the coordinator of Stand Down, the agency’s annual three-day event offering a range of services to the region’s homeless veterans, from food assistance to legal consultations to haircuts.
She said she’d seen a noticeable increase in the number of young people who have turned up to the summer event in the last couple of years. The demographic makeup of homeless veterans is shifting as the older generation from Vietnam is being renewed by veterans in their 20s. And, she said, their children.
“A lot of people also don’t realize how many children are coming to Stand Down,” Pavich said.
Many of the veterans are hardly more than children themselves. Brandon Wingle was pictured in Sam Hodgson‘s portrait accompanying my story on homelessness among new veterans.
He is 22. He joined the military when he was 19. In 2008, he deployed to Fallujah with the Marines and returned to Camp Pendleton in October. He was on prescription painkillers after a bout with pneumonia and back problems.
When he was taken off of medication, he said, he had an easy time continuing to get it from the military pharmacy without a prescription. Prescription drugs flowed freely on the military base, he said. He developed an addiction to Oxycontin, started using heroin, and while high one night walked into a stranger’s home off-base and blacked out.
He was arrested, charged and served time in jail. When he was released, he entered the residential treatment program at the Veterans Village and is now seeking commendations from his commanders to have his “other than honorable” military discharge reclassified as “honorable” in order to qualify for both disability and VA benefits.
He has applied for jobs with several private mercenary groups, including Xe, formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide.
He wants “any job where I can have a gun in my hand and be in another country,” he said.
Johnathan Pebley, 24, also wants to be a mercenary. When he was arrested two hours after receiving an honorable discharge from the military, he was staying on a friend’s couch.
He said returning to his family in Massachusetts would be hard because he no longer has anything in common with them. About his post-traumatic stress, they’ve all recommended he “just forget about it and move on.”
“You can’t move on,” he said.