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HOMELESS OF THE BRAVE: Vegas agency stretches helping hand to local vets

<p>Selwyn Harris / Pahrump Valley Times - U.S. Vets representative Michael Goldberg assesses the condition of a homeless veteran living on the side of the road on the south end of town late last month. The man, diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health issues, received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army more than 20 years ago.</p>

Selwyn Harris / Pahrump Valley Times - U.S. Vets representative Michael Goldberg assesses the condition of a homeless veteran living on the side of the road on the south end of town late last month. The man, diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health issues, received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army more than 20 years ago.

It was back in May when Michael Goldberg appeared before the Pahrump Town Board with good news for local veterans.

Goldberg, a representative of U.S. Vets, gave a presentation on how the agency is reaching out to homeless veterans in Nye County.

U.S. Vets is a private, nonprofit organization that provides housing, employment and counseling services as well as access to benefits and treatment for mental and physical health problems and substance abuse.

During the meeting, Goldberg told the board the program offers temporary assistance to at-risk, low-income families to keep them from becoming homeless.

“The grant-funded program is designed to house families as quickly as possible by providing legal counseling and financial aid for rent, utilities, moving costs and childcare, as well as bus transportation. Without housing, really nothing else can occur, so we get them housing as quickly as we can. Housing is a right, not a reward,” he said.

For years, the agency provided services mainly to Clark County veterans, but as Goldberg noted at the meeting, he now makes regular visits to Pahrump Valley.

“I have been coming out here for about five months but we have not helped a veteran in Pahrump. We never ask a veteran to move to Las Vegas. We will find them an apartment here. It may be a little different employment-wise, but again, we feel we can help,” he said.

It wasn’t long after that May meeting when Goldberg received a phone call on June 18 about a man who was hardly eking out an existence on the south end of town.

The man was literally living about 20 feet from the roadway with little more than the tattered clothes on his back and a few half-empty bottles of water as temperatures soared into triple digits.

Goldberg made contact with the homeless veteran the following day.

After speaking with the man for a few minutes, Goldberg eventually learned that the 51-year-old was from West Palm Beach, Florida, who served in the Army.

He was able to confirm the veteran received an honorable discharge from the military more than 20 years ago.

As such, Goldberg made arrangements to have VA officials pick up the man the following day where he could receive medical and housing assistance not available in Pahrump.

Goldberg, however, did not anticipate what happened once he and VA representative Thomas Coloma arrived back in Pahrump to transport the veteran to Las Vegas the next day.

The veteran inexplicably became enraged and verbally combative to the point where a Nye County Sheriff’s deputy was called to the scene.

After several phone calls to the Las Vegas VA that morning, Goldberg learned that the man’s medical records indicated he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Additionally, the records showed the man was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The veteran eventually agreed to be taken in for a mental health evaluation under Nevada’s “Legal 2000” rules, which allow authorities to hold someone who may be a danger to himself or others.

Goldberg said sheriff’s deputies were able to convince the man to be transported to Desert View Hospital for observation and medical care.

He also noted that he’s never seen such an extreme case in all of his years as a U.S. Vets representative.

“He was admitted very peacefully and he does want help. The VA is going to follow up with him. The main goal was to help this veteran. In my three years, it was the worst case that I have ever seen. I have been inside the tunnels in Las Vegas and have seen horrible conditions but just the fact that he was lying there totally uncovered in the hot sun with virtually nothing, I don’t ever recall encountering someone in that condition,” he said.

The representative said that he obviously doesn’t hold any animosity towards the veteran when the situation escalated that day.

“We just wanted to get him proper medical care and treatment. Whether he was a veteran or not, he needed help. The fact that he is a veteran in my mind, makes it even more critical because the facilities are there to help him,” he said.

Goldberg also said that he is making arrangements to transport the man into Las Vegas once he is discharged from Desert View Hospital.

“If he just gets discharged in Pahrump, he might have his meds and he may be okay, but he’s going to be homeless again. The ultimate goal is to get him help and get him into a program called HUD-VASH, which is not available in Pahrump, but it provides long-term, stable housing with case management,” he said.

Goldberg said there are roughly 58,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. on any given night.

He noted that studies show many of them are living with issues directly related to their military service.

“A lot of it is really related to their time in the military, but there are those who have no issues, but they’re just like anybody else who might become homeless. They lose a job, get divorced or whatever,” he said.

While Goldberg and Coloma were assessing the veteran’s condition, a local resident happened by the scene to find out what was happening.

The man, a 10-year resident of the community, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he and his wife would routinely stop and check on the veteran.

He said they gave him water and food each day.

“We did it because we care and he’s homeless. He is a part of our community. It seems to me that sometimes big government can’t help everybody. Sometimes it has to be the local people. There’s a lot of people in this town who are just two paychecks away from him. When I saw the guys standing over him, I thought they were hassling him. I apologize if I came off wrong. There’s not much here in Pahrump for the homeless. I think if we had a better solution, not just for the veterans but also the mentally ill, things would be so much better for those who are down and out,” he said.

The Good Samaritan said he has witnessed people in a similar state who were being harassed.

“I’m from San Diego and I’ve seen a lot of bad. I’ve seen what people do to the homeless. I’ve seen what kids today do to the homeless. Regardless of the situation, all we can do is try to help them out where we can and keep them alive,” the man said.

State lawmakers recently announced additional funding for homeless veterans in Southern Nevada.

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-Nev.) announced that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) will award $230,000 to the U.S. Vets agency in Las Vegas.

Titus said the money will go toward the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, according to a June 27 press release.

Meanwhile, Goldberg, said he will continue to help as many local homeless veterans as he can through the program.

“If someone called me today, I will be in Pahrump because this is a never-ending fight. If we can get to a veteran who wants help, we can help them. I was homeless at one time, so I’ve been there. I get pleasure from helping somebody who needs it,” he said.

The veteran has since been discharged from Desert View Hospital.

Hospital officials would not say exactly when the man was released.

Efforts are also being made to contact any family members the man may have.

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