By Susan E. Hansen, Health System Specialist
Despite successfully completing several rounds of rehab and staying sober for years at a time, Richard Myers has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for most of his adult life. His addiction placed him in difficult circumstances throughout the years, including living out of his car. It was not until a few years ago that Myers decided that he needed to make a life change and he sought the help of the Homeless Program and Substance Abuse Treatment Programs at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO). Through his completion of several VA programs he has been clean for six years now and has found permanent housing and full-time employment.
Prior to enlisting in the Navy Myers enjoyed a vibrant career as a musician, playing back-up guitar for rock and roll legends like Neil Diamond. “Playing guitar is what I thought I would do my whole life” he remarked. “There is no way to describe the empowerment you feel knowing that people paid money to come see you play, it’s the best feeling and is better than drugs or alcohol can ever make you feel.” In 1967 Myers enlisted in the Navy and spent two years stationed in Florida. After being honorably discharged from the military he began to abuse drugs and alcohol. Since that time he has been to rehab about nine times and has even stayed sober for years at a time; however, when he moved back to Winslow, AR in the early 2000s he began to drink heavily again to the point of blacking out. “My life felt out of control,” Myers stated. “I didn’t like being hung over all the time,” causing him to turn to the VHSO for treatment in the Homeless Program and the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).
The VA and VHSO offer comprehensive homeless programs that include substance abuse treatment services. The purpose of the Homeless Program is to “identify homeless Veterans through community outreach, get them place into housing and provided with necessary treatment” according to Brian McAnally, Health Care for Homeless Veterans Coordinator. In addition, “providing substance abuse treatment is a large part of what we do” he affirms. “Approximately 95 percent of homeless Veterans have substance abuse problems.”
To eliminate Veteran homelessness, the VHSO has a transitional housing program known as the Grant and Per Diem Program and permanent subsidized housing through the Housing for Urban Development/VA Supportive Housing (HUD/VASH) initiative. The Grant and Per Diem program offers 34 transitional housing beds and 15 contract transitional housing beds in Webb City, MO. In addition there are 15 contract beds available in Rogers, AR and 10 contract beds in Fort Smith, AR. “Transitional housing beds are essential to getting Veterans off the street and into housing” affirmed McAnally. “Once a Veteran is in housing we can get them enrolled in the necessary treatment programs to get them on the path to permanent housing.” Furthermore, VHSO has numerous HUD/VASH vouchers that Veterans can use to receive permanent subsidized housing. There is a scale based on income levels that determine how much the Veteran must pay in rent.
Myers participated daily in the IOP treatment program to address his substance abuse issues and was then placed in transitional housing located Rogers, AR. After completing the 30 day outpatient program Myers was selected for a compensated work therapy program also offered at VHSO, which paved the way for him to find full-time employment. In addition, he also qualified for a HUD/VASH voucher, helping him to get into permanent housing. These programs “gave me the opportunity to get my feet back on the ground and start thinking straight” Myers said. “I realized that I had something to offer and I knew I either had to change or I was going to drink myself to death.”
For more information about the Homeless Program, please visit the program website or contact VHSO’s Homeless Program at (479) 443-4301, extension 65145.