BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) — They gathered in an empty apartment in a complex that is now home to several veterans who were recently on the streets.
HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers helped them secure the small but clean apartments they said are far better than shelters or living outside.
Gary Price, 60, who served in an Army Field Artillery unit from 1980 to 1983, had initially tried to get all six veterans who live in the tidy, L-shaped building to speak out about their various plights.
Three of them decided against it, but the others offered a glimpse into their past, and hope for the future.
“I think Veterans Day is a time we remember the ones who served. The ones who put their lives on the line,” Price said. “But what about the rest of the year?”
Michael Lindsey, 59, rose to rank of Sergeant in the Army from 1984 to 1993.
“Veterans Day is basically an acknowledgment of the sacrifice that we have given for this country,” Lindsey said.
Price’s and Lindsey’s neighbor Derrick Fowler, 57, served in the Air Force from 1985 to 1994. He said he also remembers the risk veterans took.
“Remembrance of those who put their lives in jeopardy to serve,” Fowler said.
When asked if they were injured while in the service, Fowler and Lindsey quickly raised their hands.
Homeless? All three said, “Yes.”
“Basically for three years,” Lindsey said.
All three laid the blame for their stints on the streets on themselves.
“It’s me,” Price said.
“Basically, me,” Lindsey added.
They also agreed on another point involving “broken promises” from the military complex, all the way back to their respective recruiters.
“Anybody remember the guy who signed you into the service? All the promises he made?” Price asked. “I was promised computers, but [the computers we worked on] were two years older than me.”
“They didn’t deliver what I was promised,” Fowler added. “I’ve got to help myself. We have to help ourselves.”
For Price, a symptom of their issues and a call for immediate action involves the veteran suicide rate.
“What’s happened with the veterans?” Price asked. “22 commit suicide every day. Why are the men who served this country ending their lives?”
“It’s like a downward spiral,” Fowler said. “I don’t know if there is a solution for it right now.”
Two of them acknowledged they had contemplated suicide.
“I have,” Lindsey said.
“To be honest,” Fowler said. “I thought about it.”
Price shook his head no, saying he would not want to do that to his family.
The conversation shifted to the future with shades of optimism.
“I want to be able to have my own personal sustainable housing,” Lindsey said when asked what he hopes for on Veterans Day 2023. “Some personal sustainable income. And a relationship. The basics.”
Price proposed big changes to help his comrades and the many others who are in worse conditions.
“I really think we need to get government out of it and start a private-public partnership with businesses,” Price said. “These big corporations should get involved. It would help everyone.”
Despite their disappointments about services since they were enlisted, Lindsey and Fowler said they would serve again.
Price was not so sure.
“I don’t think so,” Price said. “Knowing what I know now? No.”