The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, along with community partners Palmetto Goodwill and Palmetto Warrior Connection, will host the 20th Annual Stand Down Against Veteran Homelessness Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
The free event will be held at Charleston VA’s dedicated service facility for homeless Veterans, the Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), located at 2424 City Hall Lane in North Charleston.
“Our annual Stand Down event is an important way to reach Veterans facing homelessness, but we want to ensure that Veterans know we are available to help throughout the year,” said Charleston VAMC Director of Mental Health Dr. Hugh Myrick. “Our Community Resource and Referral Center is open year-round. At this location, VA and community services are offered side-by-side to give wrap-around services for Veterans in need, so they can quickly get on the road to stable housing and quality health care.”
Stand Down will offer Veterans hot meals, haircuts, clothing, health screenings, flu shots, rapid HIV testing and the ability to speak to VA staff for health care needs including women’s health, suicide prevention, mental health, dental services, chaplain services, VA eligibility and enrollment, stroke prevention, legal counseling and more. Job assistance and opportunities to speak with local employers will be available for those seeking work.
Transportation to the CRRC will be provided from 0ne80 Place, Neighborhood House, Vet Villa, Patriot Villa and Millstone on Oct. 18 beginning at 7:00 a.m. Vans will return to each location by 3:00 p.m.
A Veteran’s second chance
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center strives each day toward their goal of ending Veteran homelessness once and for all. U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Michael Coker experienced firsthand what it meant to have the support of Charleston VA to help him leave a destructive lifestyle. His story changed on August 6, 2012 – the last day he used drugs.
In 2011, Coker traveled to Charleston from New York to attend his grandmother’s funeral. After his grandmother’s passing, he inherited $20,000 – and blew it all in one month on drug use.
That was his rock bottom.
Coker had been living a rough life – in and out of jails, prison and institutions. He thought the only next step is that he would end up dead. In 2012, Coker admitted himself to Charleston VAMC’s inpatient Mental Health Unit – he knew he needed help. He then entered the VA’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Program where he learned that he had been self-medicating to mask the effects of PTSD. Through the help of his team at Charleston VAMC he was placed in transitional housing at Vet Villas, and enrolled and graduated from Trident Technical College with a degree in radio and TV broadcasting. He is also a certified Peer Support Specialist.
Coker is now proud to be seven years sober, living in stable housing and employed at Charleston VAMC, where he recently received a promotion.
“I don’t give up on myself,” Coker said. “I never thought I’d be here today – but I now I know I’m here for a reason.”
Coker hopes that sharing his story with other Veterans helps them find the strength to ask for help, get sober and find a safe place to call home.
“My toolbox is full thanks to the people that helped me at the VA,” Coker says. “I have the tools I need to work through some life trauma. And I tell everyone, it’s better to be clean than on drugs and roaming the streets.”
Coker is now looking forward to advancing in his career, continuing a positive relationship with his three children and his grandchild, and even taking a vacation to the Bahamas this Fall. At 61-years-old, he is determined to make the best of what’s to come and to never, ever give up on himself.
It’s success stories like Coker’s that are the reason Charleston VAMC opened their CRRC, why they hold Stand Down each year and why they continue to be attentive to the needs of Veterans facing hard times and difficult situations. VA remains committed to ending Veteran homelessness so that there can be more stories like Coker’s – stories that end in hope and a new beginning.