Beyond the Uniform: One Veteran’s Story About Redemption and Hope

Terry was born in Chicago and grew up on the South Side. He served in the Military for several years, starting in 1975. “I was fortunate – I did not see combat, but there were a tremendous number of men that did, and I’ve seen the aftermath of it,” Terry explains. “That’s where my addiction really picked up, in the Military. And it continued after I got out.”

Following his years of service, Terry moved to Danville, Illinois seeking treatment for his substance use challenges. He decided to stay in the area, where he started a business as a contractor and met his wife – the two were married for more than 20 years and had five children.

Unfortunately, in 2014, Terry’s marriage ended as he explains, “My marriage ended up splitting up and a lot of that was due to the addiction. And then I spiraled really quick after that.”

Terry lost his business and ultimately became homeless. Because of his long-term alcohol use disorder, Terry’s physical health declined, and he soon lost the ability to walk due to neuropathy in his legs.

Two social workers at the VA reached out to Terry during this time. “They took time talking to me and pleading with me for a good almost three hours trying to get me to go to the hospital. And then I finally gave up and went into the hospital.”

Terry Rebuilds His Life at Cannon Place

After being discharged from the hospital, Terry stayed in a nursing home, where he slowly regained the use of his legs. He credits his time there for changing his perspective and helping him to change his life for good. “I was looking around at all these people here at this nursing home that was happy and joyful and carrying on with their lives. No matter what their condition was, they were happy. It just crushed me, how in my mind, I was totally wasting [my life] in addiction. And from that moment on, God turned my heart around, and it’s been nothing but positive since that time.”

When he was able to leave the nursing home, Terry moved to the VA, and in early 2020, he moved into Mercy Housing Lakefront’s Cannon Place. “There’s a comfort in being here at Cannon Place. Say for instance if I have some medical issues and say I can’t work for a period, there’s a comfort of knowing that they’ll work with me and I won’t be put right back in the streets, and that’s a big blessing and a comfort to know.” Beyond the safety and security that Cannon Place provides, Terry also says he realized that “there’s an opportunity here for me to grow.”

Terry has taken full advantage of this opportunity – he entered the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy program and then was hired full-time by the VA in Nutrition and Food Service. Recently, he got his Driver’s License back. In addition, he has strong relationships with his five children, as well as his twelve grandchildren and two foster grandchildren. “I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that we don’t touch base,” he says.

Terry credits many of his accomplishments to his relationship with God. “Without that inner strength that I get from praying and asking for help, it’s unbelievable. From five years ago when I had absolutely nothing to what I have been blessed with today – what a miracle.”

As he has made progress, Terry has also gotten to know many of his Cannon Place neighbors. “I see a lot of veterans that were more traumatized than I was. I like to try to help and try to give back. Hopefully, I can lead them in the right direction and live the example that I’m living, and hopefully see that change and that joy, that they can have that too.”

A Peer Group for Veterans

To help his fellow veterans at Cannon Place, Terry started a peer group for veterans, which meets every Tuesday. It’s an opportunity for them to speak confidentially about the challenges they are facing and receive support from their fellow veterans. “I’ve had a veteran or two make a comment to me that watching me pushing every day through the hard times to accomplish what has happened in my life, that it gave them hope too. And that’s what sparked that desire in my heart to start this meeting. That there is an opportunity, there is hope, and nobody’s ever too far gone.”

Terry appreciates the support he’s received from the staff at Cannon Place in starting this group, including the Resident Services Coordinator, Melissa. “It’s a blessing to have people that work at this place that really care about the veterans.”