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Army Veteran Triumphs Over 45-Year Struggle, Finds Sobriety and Home at West LA VA

Man sitting and smiling.
Army Veteran Anthony Robinson sits with a smile on his face in the community room of Building 207. Photo by Cara Deptula

Army Veteran Anthony Robinson has embarked on a path of recovery, emerging from a 45-year struggle with addiction to cocaine and methamphetamines. Today, he stands with 15 months of sobriety under his belt, leaving behind the shadows of his past for a brighter future.

"I'm really loving my sobriety and independence. It’s a whole new world for me,” said Robinson. 

Transitioning from homelessness, Robinson became one of the first Veterans to secure a studio apartment on the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center campus. Now he said he is a grateful tenant of Building 207, one of four permanent supportive housing developments for Veterans. 

Recalling his past hardships, he shares, “It was rough and cold living on the streets and in a van with no windshield.”

Building 207 was the first permanent supportive housing development completed at West LA VA Medical Center by Thomas Safran and Associates (TSA), a member of the principal developer team The West Los Angeles Veterans Collective, which is in the process of creating more than 900 units of housing on the campus. The collective is led by Veterans — Ron Griffith, president and chief executive officer of Century Housing, and a recipient of the Combat Infantry Badge and Purple Heart, and Stephen Peck, chief executive officer of U.S. VETS and a recipient of the Navy Commendation Medal. 

“The feedback I receive from Veterans walking in off the streets into their apartment for the first time is absolutely incredible. And, it has brought me to tears on more than one occasion,” said Anthony Nudson, Building 207 property manager of TSA.

A Veteran himself, Nudson was in the Army for 13 years. Because of his service he has a “special connection with all of our residents and it feels great.,” he said.

Today life is different for Robinson. He feels blessed that his family is in his corner. After years of feeling ashamed to be around them, his sobriety and new apartment have opened a pathway for him to rebuild a family connection. 

“I couldn’t relate to my family when I was using, but now I’m sober so we have a different dynamic. I’m open-minded to how they are supporting me,” said Robinson. “I’m learning the importance of honesty and transparency in relationships.” 

One of his significant milestones was hosting his family for dinner, where he prepared the entire meal in his new home. 

“It felt really amazing to do something meaningful for my family,” said Robinson. 

A New Direction Towards Recovery

Robinson's steps towards recovery began when he joined the New Directions for Veterans (NDVets), a transitional housing program located on the West LA VA Medical Center campus. 

“New Directions taught me a new type of discipline – how to take care of myself and give up substances unhealthy for my body,” said Robinson. 

Still involved in NDVets, Robinson participates weekly in an improvisation theater workshop. It’s offered in conjunction with the Imagination Workshop, a nonprofit theater arts organization committed to using the unique power of the theater and the mentoring of actors, writers, and directors to provide life-changing artistic opportunities to those suffering from a broad spectrum of mental and emotional disorders. In June, Robinson acted in one of the plays featuring a full cast of Veterans in various stages of recovery. 

“Mr. Robinson is one of the biggest success stories of any of the Veterans that I’ve worked with,” said Christina Linhardt, Imagination Workshop Playwriting Group Leader. “Now, I see so much light and happiness in his face,” 

Linhardt expressed that it has been fulfilling for her to see creative arts be a part of what shifted Robinson internally. 

His Imagination Workshop classmate, Army Veteran Gilbert Garcia, echoed this sentiment. “When I first met Anthony, he was withdrawn,” said Garcia. “He had a sense of defeat, and we both felt unable to deal with our addictions. His transformation is night and day.”

Health, Wellness and Self-improvement

Acknowledging the guidance from VA social workers, Robinson said he appreciates the life skills and relaxation techniques he has acquired. 

According to VA Social Worker Lauren Robinson, “Anthony is great at applying the skills he learned in the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and he is always open to feedback regarding self-improvement.” IOP offers tailored treatment options to each Veteran's specific needs. Most commonly posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is addressed.

Robinson has taken advantage of the services at VA like acupuncture provided by Whole Health Integrative Services. He said that his enjoyment of acupuncture inspired him to try meditation. 

"I'm growing. It's like I'm starting from childhood again,” he said. “Meditation gives me freedom and I love my freedom. When I get up in the morning, I don't have to use drugs to go out. I don't have to rush home to use drugs. To me, that is freedom.” 

Actively pursuing healthier choices, Robinson engages in physical activities like biking and plans to attend cooking classes on campus. He’s even using his new kitchen to blend fruit and vegetable smoothies from the produce VA provides via community partners. 

“In my life today, I have peace because I'm sober and that's my greatest goal - to be sober,” he said.

Veteran Outreach

Sharing his experience of living on the streets, Robinson encourages other unhoused Veterans to find a home with VA, educating them about the many services the department offers, which has earned him the admiration of is fellow Veterans. 

“Anthony tells Veterans on drugs that there is a better way to do life, and it definitely takes someone special to devote their free time to doing that,” said Garcia. 

Robinson has made it a part of his mission to help his fellow Veterans because he cares. 

“I see you out there out on the streets,” he said, “and you don't have to be out there - come on in.” 

Click here to watch Anthony’s Robinson speak about his experience at West LA Va on