The sounds and images of the Vietnam war are seared into our national
Worse are the memories of how that era’s veterans were treated.
Spit on. Reviled. And ultimately abandoned to fend for themselves.
It’s a scenario no one wants to see repeated.
But for some like Paul Gray, the similarities are tangible.
“I got shot in the chest by a nine-year-old with a .45 handgun. And I had to shoot him in the head. I didn’t enjoy it, but it had to be done because it was him or me. I mean it’s just…the reality of that place is nothing like what you see on TV. Everyone is trying to kill you.”
Gray spent two years in Afghanistan before going to Iraq.
In the line of duty, both his legs were broken and he had a traumatic brain injury.
The Army classified him as 10 percent disabled and discharged him.
“I was coming to Houston for better medical treatment because my VA in Mississippi was…they had just decided to stop treating me. So I knew even though it meant living on the streets, that this is better treatment, I’d be here. So I decided to come up here.”
[Reporter] “So were you on the streets at all?”
“For about three weeks.”
“When you were talking about Vietnam veterans, usually it was eight, ten, twelve years before you started seeing them access homeless services. Well you’re currently seeing Iraq and Afghan veterans showing up in the homeless services system. The numbers are not large, but the fact that they’re seeping into the system and the war is still going on is cause for concern.”
That’s Anthony Love, president of Coalition for the Homeless Houston-Harris County.
He says Paul Gray was actually one of the lucky ones.
He got help, housing, a job.
But what about the next guy who doesn’t get help?
“All of these things generally are things that our military as well as our VA need to be taking a look at before it even gets to the point of those individuals getting here to this community. Because once they get to the community, then there’s this defensive posturing that we have to do to deal with them falling through those cracks.”
The sad truth is some combat veterans do come back to a hostile world.
Some, look for help.
Others turn to alcohol and drugs.
And a few see a pistol or an overdose as the solution.
Tomorrow we’ll hear from the experts on what still needs to be done to fix
the gaps in Houston’s system.
“There’s lots of things that we need to do that we’re not currently totally prepared for. Are we behind? I think so.”
On Thursday the final report in our series “Returning Veterans: A Call to Action.”
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.