Struggles on the Home Front: Local Vets Battle Obstacles After War

LUBBOCK, TX (KLBK) - Courageous, fearless and strong, just a few words we associate with our United States Armed Forces.

But for some veterans they feel helpless, isolated and purposeless. 

"Nobody else cared," cried Shaun Slaughter as he recalls VetStar reaching out to him at his lowest point. Helpless.

"I went from being a supervisor who had all the answers," said veteran Cory Lucas, "To an individual who couldn't even basically function."

Michael Vasquez says he went through a dark period after returning home from war. He remembers feeling purposeless after his injuries and asking God, "Where am I supposed to be now that I'm hurt?"

These are just a few battles these veterans fought when they came home.

"We spend more money than you can believe on training people to be fantastic when they go to war," said Col. Dave Lewis with VetStar, "We barely train them at all to come back home again, and we know that war changes us."

Col. Lewis credits their veteran to veteran trust for having saved many, including Slaughter whose plans of becoming a career soldier vanished after an injury in Iraq. Slaughter says when he got home he was just existing, trying to get by until he finally broke.

"If you look at the law I'm a criminal," Slaughter admitted.

He had a severe mental breakdown that led to him attacking his wife and entering a standoff with authorities in an attempt to kill himself.

"What VetStar did for me out of the care for veterans is priceless," said Slaughter. He remembers a veteran from VetStar visiting him in the Lubbock County jail once a week.

He says they not only advocated for a fellow brother, but made sure he got the help he desperately needed.

"The fact that VetStar looked and said we've chewed the same dirt as him, he is someone we can relate to, he is a veteran, lets help." Slaughter says VetStar has been there for him throughout his entire process.

"Unfortunately, mental health has grown," said Cory Leake, a veteran and employee for VetStar, "Now, I think they are realizing that, the problem is they are overwhelmed and understaffed."

The veterans who shared their stories with us say the local VA Outpatient Clinic is doing what they can, with what they have. They all agree it's not enough.

"The time they have with you is very very limited and you don't get to address any of your personal issues,"  that's the experience veteran Cory Lucas has had.

He says the VA is loaded with paper work and bureaucracy. He says he's seen things improve in the past six years but he says not fast enough.

"The VA cant cover it all, they are a huge entity with a lot of resources, but they can't really cover all those gaps," and Lucas says there are a lot of gaps.

Receiving help from VetStar was a turning point in Lucas' life leading him to volunteering with the organization and now their staff.

The stories of VetStar filling in the gaps continue for veterans here on the South Plains.

"I miss it, I mean every day I miss it," said Michael Vasquez as he looked at his medals,"I wish I could get up and go."

Vasquez's military career ended in 2009 when an RPG shot at his unit's vehicle in Afghanistan.

He says God helped him get out of a dark place when he got home, helping him find his purpose, helping other vets dealing with injuries similar to his and those dealing with post-traumatic stress.

He recalls spending several years trying to get help from the VA in making his house easier to live in.

Every time he thought he was close things would fall through and he would end up back at square one. Finally a grant with VetStar changed things for Vasquez.

"There were times when we had the other shower and I would transfer over to the chair and I would forget to lock my breaks and I open the door and my chairs way across the room and I cant get it." But he says with the grant and improvements to his home things are much easier.

These are just a few stories of VetStar's agile ability to fill in the gaps.

As for plans on a new VA facility in Lubbock.

"This new facility I keep hearing about it and we know we kind of got our hopes up, but we kind of don't because we've been told a lot of different things." Lucas added it would make things easier for veterans here on the South Plains. 

We're told it should be in the works by 2020 with plans showing the surgery side of the clinic being equal to mental health, a move these veterans say is a step in the right direction.

"This is not going away by the way," said Col. Lewis, "We've been at war for what 16 years or 15 and a half years now this is not going away real soon, so we're going to have a lot of these issues for a long time."

It's VetStars understanding the new facility will be by Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. 

KLBK was able to speak via phone to a spokesperson for the VA who confirmed the new clinic coming to Lubbock will be larger allowing more space for more resources. In a statement they said the new facility is currently in the pre-construction bid phase.

The spokesperson for the VA said in a statement: 

"We appreciate all patient feedback on the care we provide and look forward to getting Veterans the care they need."

Click here for a list of local veteran resources.

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