Indianapolis veteran overcomes physical and emotional challenges

Lamont at HVAF
Lamont is a four-year Navy veteran who served on six deployments. As a shipping and receiving clerk he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. When his service ended, Lamont struggled to find work. In 1987, he was hired at G&G Metal Spinners where he dedicated 18 years of his life. But, working in machinery took a toll on him physically. He went to see doctors and specialists and who determined that the persistent lower back pain was only going to get worse if he kept doing that kind of work.

“It was really scary because for years I had grown used to needing my strength and relying on it to do my job. Now, I could no longer do any heavy lifting. I didn’t know what I was going to do," he said.

Lamont filed for disability in June 2014. He waited. Without a steady job he became homeless. Lamont stayed with family and friends and in December 2014, he came to HVAF for help with housing. At HVAF, he met a case manager who helped change the course of his life. A case manager’s role is connecting veterans with benefits, employment opportunities as well link them to other resources. Lamont was encouraged to follow-up on the disability benefits process. He was awarded disability benefits and is permanently housed.

Veterans at HVAF collect water for residents of Flint, Michigan

A wide range of groups are currently collecting or helping to bring water to needy residents in Flint, Michigan where 100,000 residents have no clean drinking water due to lead-contamination. Veterans in HVAF’s Vet2Vet group have teamed up with Dollar General #6874 to collect bottled water. Vet to Vet is a support group that meets weekly to plan community service projects as well as talk about the day-to-day challenges in their lives.

 “It’s humbling to see these veterans who have very little in materialistic things want to help a fellow American in need,” says James Miller, Vet2Vet Peer Mentor and Air Force veteran. 

The group plans to collect a van full and then deliver it to a partnering agency who will then drive the water donation to Michigan.

Music that soothes the soul, volunteer from Musical Resources at HVAF

Nancy and Angela at HVAF
It was a billboard sign along a highway about HVAF serving homeless veterans that caught Nancy Hart’s eyes. It was a last minute cancellation that gave Angela a chance at a piano lesson where she would meet Nancy. It was happenstance.

Nancy is a volunteer at HVAF. She teaches piano to homeless veterans once a month. In 2011, she had lost her own home and had empathy towards those in transition. 

She owns Musical Resources, a registered Indiana business since 2000 with locations in Jefferson County, Indiana serving mostly the 3 areas of Madison, Vevay, and Versailles. 

Her goal is to introduce veterans to music as well as impact more people. She is offering free lessons for any interested veteran at HVAF.

“Being a piano technician, I initially offered to tune and internally clean and lubricate the instrument that is in the lobby at one of HVAF's housing properties,” says Nancy. “While working on the piano, I was able to develop professional interactions with a few veterans who expressed desire to play the instrument," says Nancy. 

My first student at HVAF said," but I can't move this finger or this finger." I said, "I'm going to show you that you can."

And he did.   

The seed was planted.  

Angela, a fifty-five-year-old veteran who served in the National Guard says her family dynamic changed when she moved back home after serving in the military. She turned to alcohol to cope. But Angela worked hard in the HVAF housing program and she is getting her life back on track.

"It means a lot, an awful lot," said Angela. "You need little distractions when things look bleak. Your world looks like it's falling apart and you need a diversion," she said. "You feel like no one cares and you're expendable and you need something."

Music is what she needed. It fills the lobby at HVAF's Manchester Apartments where Angela calls home. The two women play softly, and although it’s simple, it helps Angela forget about her troubles.

There are many benefits of playing and teaching musical instruments, the piano being only one of them. Cognitive abilities, fine motor skills, and potentially new neuro pathways are all increased with learning new material, from the youngest to the oldest.

In a most recent article 2/18/16 from eMedExpert,"How Music Affects Us and Promotes Health,” there are statements and findings that conclusively support the benefits of studying music as self-management techniques of depression and pain control, as well as boosting the immune system. There are many other benefits addressed in the article which are too numerous to include. Pilot programs are now sprouting with the focus on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Nancy works with the veterans on finger exercises, music reading, rhythm studies, and improvisation. She says consistency in regular practice times will be imperative for their growth. 

“I am humbly grateful that HVAF has allowed me to sow seeds of greatness," adds Nancy.
“Together we work to raise awareness of our belief in humanity.”

Nancy plans to keep a 6 to 12 month journal on each participant to track their development patterns. At least three other veterans have expressed an interest in learning to play an instrument.


Iowa students lend a helping hand at HVAF

Iowa State University’s Greek Alternative Spring Break students had the opportunity to volunteer at HVAF of Indiana. Members tied their experiences to their fraternal values through a series of visits to not-for-profits across Central Indiana.

Twenty members volunteered on March 16 to paint the American flag in the Vet2Vet room which is used weekly as a support group for veterans to discuss issues or obstacles day-to-day as they work towards self-sufficiency. The students also learned more about homelessness.

“I felt like I needed to explore my service opportunities and it is fun to see the impact we will have made by providing a brighter, more creative space for these veterans,” says Morgan Hulick, 20.

 “It’s good to see the work we have done from beginning to end.”

The students left as friends with renewed purpose. They made memories to last a lifetime.

View this short Indy Star video.

WTHR, RTV6 also covered the story. 

Iowa State University’s Greek Alternative Spring Break students


Navy veteran’s financial struggles at home

Gary at HVAF
Many veterans return from serving in the military to face enormous financial burdens. Gary T., 52, is no different. In the mid-80’s he joined the U.S. Navy and worked as a Radar Operator managing tactical and navigational charts. After serving, he moved back home to Indianapolis to be nearer to his four children.

“The transition home was kind of rough for me because l had a hard time finding work and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” says Gary who experienced intermittent homelessness for two years. “I eventually used the skills from my degree in college but even those jobs in architectural drafting were few and far between.” 

In 2014, Gary ran out of money and began sleeping in his car. He was referred to HVAF by the VA. In June 2015, he met with Fred Young, HVAF’s Residential, Employment and Substance Abuse (REST) Coordinator, to begin his journey of sobriety. HVAF not only provided him with a warm bed, food, clothing and hygiene items, but more than he could imagine.

Gary was housed first. Then, his next hurdle was to get his finances in order. Years of child support had put a financial burden on his life and prevented him from gaining the sense of security and stability he needed to move forward.

Carlton Martin, Staff Attorney with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, an HVAF partner agency, is in the beginning stages of working with Gary to sort through his financial responsibilities which is something Gary says he couldn’t do alone.

“I was able to organize all of my old debts and file ten years of back taxes to avoid legal trouble,” adds Gary. “When I was homeless I had rejected my financial responsibilities while I was out on the streets.”

He is now empowered with the legal guidance he has received and is thankful to be working full-time at the VA Hospital.

“I finally feel that I am accountable for things and I have more control over my life.”

Gary talks about his struggles in his own words: