Homeless veterans get help they need at Sooner Stand Down [The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City]
(Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 19--More than 265 veterans, many of them homeless, converged Friday in Oklahoma City for the 2013 Sooner Stand Down. Veterans could get a hot meal, medical and dental care, backpacks and warm clothes. Organizations helped with housing and legal needs, mental health and drug abuse counseling, haircuts and eye exams.
The Oklahoma VA Medical Center collaborated with social agencies, bringing services scattered around the city together at the Homeless Alliance for one day to help veterans. Notable was a sharp increase -- from 14 to 45 -- in the number of homeless veterans who lack shelter, said Dan Straughan, Homeless Alliance executive director.
Here are stories of two veterans who sought help Friday.
Mike Smith, 59, Air Force
You might see Mike Smith around town -- at Walmart, a shopping mall or community center.
He's the guy sleeping in the back of a 2002 Nissan pickup in the parking lot.
Smith, 59, was born in Longmont, Colo. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1973, right after graduation from high school in Coachella, Calif.
Trained in weapons technology and maintenance, he served at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada before being assigned to Sembach Air Base in Germany.
He says it's a back injury suffered early in his six-year military career that forces him to walk -- lurch, really -- with a cane and keeps him in pain.
But it's the years in Germany that animate him, and he sits up with a gleam in his eye as he remembers traveling through Europe with a square- and round-dancing club from the base.
The young airman drove a 1963 BMW, danced in Holland and at Heidelberg Castle, and visited Gen. George S. Patton's grave in Luxembourg.
Returning to the states, he was honorably discharged from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
His problems began with an inadequate discharge physical "and I've had trouble getting services through the VA ever since," Smith said. He wears over-the-counter eyeglasses with magnifying lenses and has trouble hearing from working on runways around loud aircraft.
Civilian life has been "rocky," with two marriages.
He started out pumping gas and driving a wrecker and eventually worked seven years at Tinker Air Force Base and eight years running a self-storage in Haltom City, Texas.
Now he lives on VA disability. He qualifies for food stamps, but with no permanent address or dependent children, he's not collecting.
"Just me and my truck," he said.
On chilly days, Smith said, "I can go through a tank of gas in a day and half trying to stay warm."
Wearing jeans, a frayed T-shirt and a fleece, Smith said he was at the Stand Down looking for clothes, boots and a jacket.
After all, the weather's starting to turn.
Mike Beckley, 55, Air Force
Petroleum engineer Darrell Beckley moved his family from Kansas to tiny Brush in northeastern Colorado when his son, Michael, was 2 months old.
A "loving family" eventually grew to include six girls and five boys, with Mike Beckley "the typical middle child, seeking affection and attention."
His drinking began for real -- "it was a freedom thing" -- when he joined the Air Force in 1977, a year after graduating from high school.
Service took him to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he attended telecommunications school, then to Crete in the Greek islands, Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City and the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska.
After an honorable discharge in 1983, Beckley worked in the oil patch in Colorado. Just before leaving for Amarillo and truck-driving school, he renewed an acquaintance with Sandy, a girl from the neighborhood.
A marriage followed, and two children, Jackie and Matthew. It lasted 20 years, marked by "all the bad stuff that comes with drinking." The kids, now 24 and 20, "want nothing to do with me."
Beckley wound up driving a bus in Denver but, needing to get away, moved to Oklahoma City, where he drove for Metro Transit.
He'd been sober almost three years when first his mother, Janice, and later his father died in 2012.
He lost his home and moved through missions and a sober living house before landing at Serenity Outreach Recovery.
"I've been sober a little more than a year now," Beckley said.
Once a young man who aspired to study music and theater at the University of Wyoming, Beckley is working on certifications in information technology at Francis Tuttle Technology Center.
He's a big guy, so finding new clothes at the Stand Down was unlikely.
He was getting good meals -- lunch courtesy of Whole Foods -- and help with his knees, injured in the service when he played flag football on teams at the base.
At Serenity, Beckley is in 12-step programs and finding "calm and peace I haven't felt in a long time." Friday nights, he can get broadcasts of Brush High School Beetdiggers football over the Internet.
"Being there has given me this knowledge that I'm on the right track," he said.
(c)2013 The Oklahoman
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