Basil Horn – who 10 years after he left the U.S. Navy still goes by the nickname “Doc,” in reference to his former life as a corpsman – compared the move from military to civilian life to “having to reprogram a computer.”
“It’s very tough to go from one structure to another – military structure and in civilian life, it’s not structured,” said Horn, 54, who’s lived most of his life in Greene County.
The differences between the lived experience of veterans and their civilian counterparts form part of the rationale for the Patriot House, a transitional housing facility on City Mission’s campus in downtown Washington that can accommodate as many as 22 residents.
Horn and five others moved into the new digs last month. City Mission waited until Tuesday to hold a grand opening attended by prominent donors and local political figures – including former congressman Tim Murphy, who resigned last year in the wake of an adultery scandal, and an aide of U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, Murphy’s successor – and featuring patriotic songs and a flag-raising ceremony just a day ahead of Independence Day.
City Mission spokesman Gary Porter said the organization’s research showed the most successful programs involve veterans helping each other.
“So veterans living together, healing together, working together, all of that seems to be the most effective program,” Porter added.
Horn and others who live in the new building agreed.
“There’s a camaraderie among us,” said Kevin Lubitz, 45, another Navy veteran. Lubitz, who is in recovery from an addiction to painkillers, moved to the mission from a treatment facility about a year ago and now works in its maintenance department.
Dale Jones, 52, a former member of the Army National Guard who also came to the mission from a treatment program, echoed that idea: “A lot of things in civilian life are different than they are in the military,” Jones said.
Media materials for the event quoted City Mission officials as saying they’ve seen more veterans coming to the shelter every year since the organization started tracking that number nine years ago.
A disproportionately high rate of homelessness among former members of the armed forces isn’t unique to Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Citing statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans said more than 40,000 veterans nationwide are homeless on any given night.
Veterans make up 13 percent of the homeless population, though only 7 percent of Americans can claim veteran status, according to NCHV’s figures.
In a 2012 study, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of the Inspector General found rates of homelessness were particularly high among women and those who partook in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Horn said he spent a total of 18 years in the Navy. The last of a total of six combat deployments he completed was in Iraq.
He eventually left the Navy because of post-traumatic stress disorder. He came to the mission about two months ago following a four-week stay at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he was treated for PTSD.
“The VA obviously knew this was coming, so they were trying to send their veterans up here,” he said.