Healthcare for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003, may be eligible for five years of medical care. The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to reach out to eligible veterans who served “in a theater of combat operations” to let them know that they may be eligible for complete health care coverage for five years post service.

Read more: Healthcare for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Jamie Breen, a 24 Year Old Homeless Veteran

Found a place to stay at PVMSEC's Mary E. Walker House in Coatesville, PA.

By Jen Howard, Newsworks

Jamie BreenJamie Breen didn't really have any plans after high school graduation in Willingboro, New Jersey.  So it wasn't a surprise to anyone when she signed up for the Air Force, shipped out for basic training, and inevitably was sent to Iraq.

Breen remembered the advice her father gave her. "He said, you gotta do what you gotta do, Jamie," said Breen. "You know you signed that piece of paper and you promised you would do anything for your country. So, that's what I had to do." 

Breen was stationed in Baghdad. She worked in a post office doing secretarial work until she fell off a mail truck. She broke her arm, injured her back, and had a concussion. She was sent back to the states to heal.  

"I felt like a little kid again," Breen said. "My mom had to wash my hair for me because I couldn't do any of that stuff for myself." 

After physical therapy, Breen had largely recovered. But not fast enough for the medical examination board. They discharged her with a ten percent disability rating and $10,000 in severance pay. 

"I went cha-ching," said Breen. "I started drinking and going out every night and partying and doing drugs. At first it was like I was hanging out with old friends that hadn't seen me in a long time. Then it started that I didn't even want to hang out with them. I would just sit in my room at my dad's house in the basement and drink like a bottle of vodka myself." 

She was drunk, day and night. 

"I would use it to try to cope with the pain," Breen said. "I had some friends that got hurt and I had some friends that were killed. And it was really horrible to see." The memories kept her awake. She'd get tired, and instead of resting, she'd use cocaine. Breen said her dad was starting to catch on. "I think he could tell. He was a police officer, a narcotics officer, so I think he had the idea that something was going on. But because I was his daughter he didn't want to say it out loud. Because it might be true." 

It wasn't long before she was arrested for drunken driving. 

She hit a car at a stoplight in South Philly and took off. Police followed her. She didn't stop until they drew their guns. 

Breen was high, drunk, and in a jail cell. 

It was Veteran's day, 2009. 

This isn't an unusual story to Marsha Four.  She's the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Veteran Multi-Service and Education Center, and says women back from war find themselves in tenuous positions. "Top that with no jobs, top that with possible substance abuse problems, issues with unstable mental health--it all lends itself to the perfect storm," said Four. "Families sometimes will keep their female children in the home setting more than they will their male children. Part of that is just in our culture--we think that women need to be protected longer. But eventually they do hit the bottom, burn a lot of bridges, and their families decide that they just can't work with them any longer." 

So, they end up homeless. 

Four, a Vietnam Veteran, knew that as more women enlisted in the military, the problem would only grow as they got out. 

In 2005, she opened a shelter exclusively for homeless women veterans. 

"The biggest challenge was making it feel a little homey," said Four.  "Not institutional. So we have little lace curtains on windows here and there and we have a little wall paper in the lobby." 

And that's where Jamie Breen is today. The Mary E. Walker House is located on the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus in Coatesville, Pa. It has 30 beds and a near-constant waiting list. Eighty to 90 percent of the women here have drug and alcohol addiction issues.

"Everybody up here is a veteran so we all know what we went through. We have that bond," said Breen. "Some of the ladies are my good friends and they're, like, as old as my mom."

At 24, Breen is the youngest in the house. She's been here a month. 

As a resident of the house, Breen attends Narcotic and Alcohol Anonymous meetings, takes classes in finance, life skills, and nutrition. She's in a compensated work therapy program--usually washing dishes in the kitchen--and saving her money for when she's out on her own. 

Which could be awhile. She can stay here for up to two years. 

And Breen, like the other women in the house, gets to decide when she's ready to leave. 

"That's the question for them," said Four. "What's the definition of success for you here and have you obtained it? They get to decide that."

For now, Jamie Breen just wants to work the program and stay sober. 

And be that way this year on Veteran's Day.

Perseverance: That’s My Story

Armando-Vega-SmallMy journey to secure gainful employment was not easy, it was a test filled with obstacles and rejections. In order to undertand my story I must start from the beginning. I was living in NYC last year and working minimally, barely logging-in a 40 hour week. Suddenly at the end of July I found myself unemployed with very little hope of finding a job. Being an older worker and out of a job made me feel tremendously uncertain. I truly hit a low point in my life and I was unhappy.

The next month I decided to celebrate my birthday with my long time friend who lives in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, a place I’ve always loved and visited for many years. On that day I went looking for a new place to live. I said to myself “what have I got to lose? If the real estate office denies my application at least I tried to make a change for the better.” Two days after returning to NYC I got the call from the real estate office – I was approved!

September 2012, I moved to Philadelphia a new beginning. The first few weeks I registered with local employment agencies and the Pennsylvania Career link, a state employment resource center. After getting familiar with the public transportation system I began to explore job fairs. One job fair after another I began to feel rejection, frustration and despair. It was as if I had felt this way before when I attended job fair events in NYC. Becoming ever so restless I knew that something had to give I was looking for a source of hope.

In November, I registered and attended a “Hiring our Heroes” job fair event for Veterans. My expectations were moderate as I entered the door to the Lincoln Financial Field, the site of this exclusive hiring event. An hour went by and I met several potential employers however, I felt very dissatisfied. Before departing that afternoon I reported to my career counselor who was there at the Career link table. My only parting comment was thanks for informing me about this event, nothing more.

When I approached the table I noticed another table to the left with a banner which read - The Philadelphia Veterans Multi Service and Education Center (PVMSEC). There I met a gentleman named Joe Adair who was genuinely interested in helping me. Although I was doubtful at first I said to myself “what have I got to lose?’’ The job fair did not lead me to a potential employer and here’s the PVMSEC, a veteran’s resource center and they seemed to be the source of hope that I was looking for.

A week later, I visited the PVMSEC offices and signed up for services and their 5 week computer course starting in January 2013. What a good decision that was for me, after completing the course and receiving a student achievement award, my updated resume was uploaded onto the PVMSEC website. Two weeks after graduation an employer in Center City saw my revised resume and contacted me, a week later I was hired. Today I am very happy to report that I am gainfully employed and exhilarated while learning on the job each and every day.

Indeed my story has a happy ending however, if not for my belief and ability to persevere despite the rejections and numerous obstacles I would not have made it. The message I would like to share with my fellow unemployed veterans is to always believe, never give up and locate veteran’s resource centers like the PVMSEC or wherever they may be. A special thanks to Joe Adair, Tim Meserve, Linda Kahlert and the rest of the good people at the PVMSEC for all your help. You are the very best!

Anonymous - Philadelphia, PA

"I am the wife of a Viet Nam Veteran. My husband started going to PVMSEC 10 years ago for help. No mere words could ever express how much his life and in turn our family life has changed for the better in those years. I am and always will be grateful for the wonderful care he has received at the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service Center & Education Center."

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