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Each One, Reach One, Teach One: The Life of a Vietnam Veteran Comes Full Circle
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My name is Moe Armstrong. My history with Connecticut has been long and circular. In 1965, I saved the life of a Marine in Vietnam. He was from Noank, close to Mystic. He and I became friends. There is something bonding about performing artificial respiration on a person and bringing him back to life. He introduced me to his sister. She and I started to write letters. We all talked of going to Connecticut. He and I lived the life of old war buddies.
During my last month in
, I had a psychiatric break. I ended up medically evacuated from
and when I was discharged from the hospital, I came to
. In 1966, I came here looking for Bett and her brother Jack. We never connected. I kept looking for her and her brother. I was homeless and lived in a tent on a farm in
. I was also dazed and confused from the war. I was lost and hurt. I kept moving in and out of homelessness. Homelessness was more painful than the war experience.
I returned to Connecticut in 1967, still looking for Bett and her brother. The war had scattered us. The war had destroyed my life. I was decorated with the Naval Commendation and a Combat V. Her brother and I had seen a lot of combat. I was so hurt that that I would just keep crying. I was hurt from the war. I was also brokenhearted to never be reunited with my wartime buddy Jack and his sister Bett. At the beginning of the summer of 1967, I left Connecticut. With nowhere to live, I returned to work for the US Forest Service in California. They provided me with a place to live. Over the next twenty years, I kept losing my mind, my jobs, and my home. Lived in cars. Stayed with people. Lived on the streets. Every few years, I would return to Connecticut and would try to find Bett and her brother in the phone book. Then, I would head back to California or New Mexico.
In 1984 - twenty years after the war - I started going to college in New Mexico. I completed two Masters Degrees. In 1993, I moved to Boston, Massachusetts. For the past twenty years, I have never stopped working with people with mental illness who are or have been homeless. My job is to get other people Sane, Stable, Safe and Sober. I set up Peer Support Meetings in Massachusetts. Several thousand people attended these support meetings in Massachusetts. In January 15, 2002, we started our first support meetings for veterans at the Errera Community Care Center in West Haven, Connecticut. For six years, I have also worked to create safe, stable, sane and sober environments for veterans. These programs have all been evaluated by a VA research team. These Veteran support meetings are also in thirty-eight sites across America.
Homelessness hurt me many years ago. Maybe, that is why I chose to work so hard. I lost twenty years of my life. I do not want others hurt like I was hurt. I went from being an all-star football player, an Eagle Scout, a Presbyterian Sunday School teacher and decorated combat military hero—to being drunk and addicted on the streets of America. There is no easy road to recovery and renewal. I was helped. The VA helped me. Social services helped me. My parents are poor retired janitors. They had no money. All I got over the years came through help from the government. I succeeded. Others can succeed. Others have succeeded. At the age of sixty-three, I am now starting all over.
There is a war going on. I have chosen to leave my job and work in Boston and come to Connecticut and become a VA employee at the VA’s Errera Community Center. My job will be to assist other veterans through knowledge and information. What is mental illness? How can we get free from addictions? How can we get and keep housing? Then, how can each of us go back and help others get free from homelessness and destructiveness, also? Each One, Reach One, Teach One.
My life has come full circle. Connecticut is where I started this quest. Connecticut is where my quest will end. Thank you for your interest in wanting to help veterans obtain permanent housing. Count me in to assist Connecticut in obtaining housing for veterans. It is ironic that only a few months ago I heard from Bett again. She located me through the Internet. She is happily married. Her brother died a couple of years ago. We were never really reunited. Still, my life and time in Connecticut will be dedicated to Bett and her brother Jack. My time is also dedicated to obtaining permanent housing for veterans and keeping them housed permanently.
We can begin to break the cycle of homelessness. Permanent housing with wrap-around services is the answer. You have one of the best VA mental health care systems in the United States here to accomplish the service delivery. I look forward to having the complimentary housing part soon.
Thank you for your interest, and for caring about veterans.
- Moe Armstrong
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Helga Luest from Washington
March 20, 2010
Moe - you are fantastic! Thank you for sharing you story. I'm sorry you hurt and struggled so deeply because you served this country. I'm very glad to hear that the VA has your talent and creativity working for the vets that return with what you described as "tri-occurring disorders". Every American should care. It's out democracy that puts military service members in a place where they experience physical and silent wounds. Lives and families ripped apart. It's time we all start learning about the nature and impact of combat stress and trauma - and caring a whole lot more so we don't lose good people in the cracks.
It's so clear why you and Guy Gambill received SAMHSA's Impact Award. You two are making a huge difference. Thank you for teaching the rest of us.
Livia Davis from Newton
July 13, 2008
What strength and experience you bring to your work. Thank you for sharing your story.
Laura Gillis from Baltimore
July 12, 2008
Ditto Mo. Great story and now you are bringing your experience to homeless services. Thanks!
Katie Volk from Boston
July 07, 2008
Mo, I find your story so inspiring. Thank you for sharing it with us!
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