His life post war took a downward turn that he never recovered from. Loitering, bouncing between relatives' houses and church shelter programs, he would often get arrested for public drunkenness. He would ride the subways. And that's where he killed himself.
Across the country this story has been repeated over and over again. It was a time where in pop culture people were a lot less aware of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury).
Today the issue is even more urgent.
"Studies have shown that about 35 percent of homeless vets are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and about one-quarter had these issues before they committed crimes," says Peter Gravett, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet).
"California being the most populous state has over two million veterans -- the vast majority located in L.A. and San Diego -- L.A. because it's our most populous city and San Diego because of its great weather," Gravett explains.
For these reasons, a new judicial processing system, veterans' courts, has been set up across the nation to help wayward soldiers find a path they can take to get their lives back on track.
"I was in the military, and I was in law enforcement several years ago. We had veterans returning from Vietnam and we didn't recognize [their symptoms] -- they did not get the help and assistance needed," Gravett said.
Veterans' courts, according to Gravett, are a hybrid of government and mental health drug court models that address the unique issues presented by those who served in the military and may be suffering from serious mental health problems or other recurring illnesses.
Started in Buffalo, NY, in 2008, veterans' courts have been established in several states around the country, including California, which has nine such courts statewide, most located in Southern California.
There are approximately 23.4 million veterans, 1.7 million of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan. As much as one-third of the nation's homeless population has served in the armed forces, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly half of all homeless vets suffer from some sort of mental illness, and 75 percent struggle with substance abuse.
Unable to cope with life after the military, Gravett explains veterans often wind up homeless or on the street, or pulled over by police for committing misdemeanors like jaywalking. These courts are there for those offenses.
Unfortunately, many vets are "just not thinking about the veterans' courts. A lot of them do not want to acknowledge that they have PTSD," says Judge Michael Tynan, who presides over the veterans' court established in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system.
What's more, Tynan says that some have trouble finding work -- even with no criminal record -- when employers view them as liabilities, which makes reintegrating back into society all the more difficult.
"It's also a geographical problem," Tynan says of his court located in downtown L.A., which may not be perceived as accessible to those who live in outlying areas. A soldier from Pasadena would be eligible to go to the L.A. court, but Tynan says that many from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have not found their way to him. Instead, he's seeing vets from earlier wars -- from Vietnam and even a man from the Korean War.
Other veterans' courts operating since December are in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Tulare and Santa Clara counties. San Mateo County Superior Court, according to courts.ca.gov, the website of the California courts system, is set to open a veterans' court this year. More courts, according to the site, are in the planning stages. Some 150,000 local veterans are among the returning soldiers surfacing in courts around the country.
"Nobody treated these guys for years. They've been self-medicating. Now they're getting treatment and they're rectifying their ways," says Tynan.
Gravett is quick to note that certain criteria must apply before someone can qualify to have a case heard in veterans' court:
"These courts are not open to those who've committed violent crimes, a major felony or a murder. They are for minor offenses - trespassing, drunkenness in public or being on drugs."
People who knew Uncle Larry say he was a very sweet and likeable guy. When he came back from Vietnam, he was quiet, withdrawn, haunted. Today, a kind of sadness fills the room when his name is mentioned. Perhaps these courts can save some men and women who are already going down a similar path - lift them out of the things that are haunting them and heal their wounds.
Photo by Logan Nakyanzi Pollard
A version of this post first appeared in the Pasadena Weekly as the cover story.
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