From military service, to homelessness, to home ownership – to helping those who follow in their footsteps.
That is the path chosen by three Soldier On staff members – all formerly homeless veterans – honored during a graduation ceremony June 6, 2012 for completing the Addiction Counselor Education Program offered by Westfield State University’s Division of Graduate and Continuing Education.
All three, Rich Webb, Todd Hankins and Joe Bohannon, plan to use their education from this program to continue serving their fellow veterans at Soldier On facilities in Leeds and Pittsfield, Mass.
The nine-month Westfield program “was brutal, but well worth it,” said Webb, a Coast Guard veteran who has been a member of the Soldier On team since 2007, serving as Intake Coordinator for the past two years. He is also a resident of the Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, owning a share in the limited equity cooperative housing that makes him one of the veterans who have completed the transition from homelessness to home ownership.
His Addiction Counselor Education training, Webb said, “will help me a lot in screening residents, recognizing their issues. It also made me look at myself and what I need to do to live a normal life.”
George Hinckley, Vice President of Treatment Services at Soldier On, supervised the practicums for the three recent graduates, as he has for others during the past 15 years. He said that in Webb’s case, the training “was helpful because he’ll be better able to identify drug use and behaviors that go along with it. He will also communicate that information to those making referrals,’’ such treatment facilities and other veteran friendly institutions. “He has knowledge of drug replacement therapies that he didn’t have before, and it’s this type of training that helps create professionalism and to ask the right questions during intake.”
Hankins, a Marine Corps veteran from Springfield, is a General Manager at the Berkshire Veterans Residence in Pittsfield, where he lives. He is among the resident veterans who serve on the committee that governs and sets policies for the Berkshire Veterans Residence.
“I want to help develop new programs for these guys,” said Hankins, who plans to pursue a masters degree in Human Services.
With his background from the Westfield program, “he’ll make more professional and informed decisions when he sits with people as co-General Manager and a member of the committee,” Hinckley said. “He can help direct the questions, and determine what led to certain behaviors.”
Bohannon, a Navy veteran from Connecticut, is a Case Manager at the Soldier On Leeds facility, where he works with veterans who suffer co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues.
The Westfield education, Hinckley said, will help Bohannon directly in his role as case manager.
“It will help him better understand veterans in the development of treatment plans, service plans and rediscovering their lives,” Hinckley said.
A former FedEx manager and member of the New Haven Board of Education, Bohannon said he came to Soldier On “not for housing; it was a matter of getting my life heading in the right direction. And here, it’s like I’ve found my purpose. I was married for 20 years, with two beautiful daughters, and they used to say how worried they were about me. Now they tell me how proud they are of me.”
“This is the only job I’ve had – and I’ve had some good ones – where I wouldn’t hesitate to do it for free,” Bohannon said.