FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – Goodwill held a special program Thursday to say thank you to some forgotten veterans. They are men and women who came home carrying emotional scars from service and found themselves homeless. They were given an early Thanksgiving meal. Many stood in line to get a much-appreciated free haircut. Goodwill and private donors also gave the veterans a blanket and toiletries and access to services and jobs.
And, importantly, it reminded the 70 or so veterans they are not alone. That feeling of isolation almost universally affects the men and women who return home from service and find themselves out in the street.
“I just kept on thinking it was just me going through those problems. Psychologically it put me in depression mode,” said U.S. Navy (Ret.) RP Aaron Hunger who said he battled through drug and alcohol addiction once he found programs and people willing to help.
According to the Veterans Administration, only about 7% of Americans are veterans. Yet, veterans make up 13% of the homeless population.
During the activities at Goodwill, one of the staff was asked if there was a piano. Indeed, a piano was pushed out from a storage room into the auditorium/cafeteria where everyone was. A young sat down on the piano bench propping up his cane next to him. And then U.S. Army (Ret.) SPC Lavon Johnson began to beautifully play classical music. Others in the room stopped talking and a radio was switched off.
Johnson served in Iraq. He’s currently staying at a night shelter.
“Its harder to be here after the war zone than it is to be in the war zone after here,” Johnson said quietly. “Out there you have purpose. Here, everybody is already free. There’s no one to save.”
Johnson said when he returned home he felt like he hadn’t accomplished anything. He questioned why his friends died and he survived. And he had a lot of pent up anger.
“A lot of anger,” Johnson said. “A lot of, lot of, lot of anger.”
Despite the precision with which he plays, amazingly Johnson plays by ear. But the music is for his soul. He played wherever he could find a piano.
“The piano is very therapeutic for me,” Johnson said. “It helped me keep my mind together. When everything was racing all I had to do was think about this keyboard. Just 88 keys, man.”
Through events like the one at Goodwill, Johnson found there were people who understood. He’s now working to bring himself out of the shelter and has applied for disability because of the damage done to his knees during the war. Johnson is also seeking recognition of his need for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the VA. But, to a person the vets who’ve been through Johnson’s experience say just knowing they’re not alone makes all the difference in the world.
“I’m still here,” Johnson said. ” I guess there is a purpose for me now. I’m slowly finding that each day that I live.
“Its been a hard one. But, to get to this point now, I want to live.”
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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