VA staff helps homeless Veteran reunite with family after 22 years


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German A. Leon was born in Panama. He moved to the U.S. as a teenager with his mother and two sisters, and enlisted in the Army at the age of 18. According to Leon, much of his life following military service is hazy, and he can’t recall details other than he had lived with his mother and sisters as a young adult.

Patrice Green, a social worker at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, took an interest in Leon’s case.

German Leon

Veteran German Leon at the Gateway facility in Atlanta, which provides temporary shelter for homeless Veterans.

“I asked him how long he had been wandering around homeless, and he replied ‘years and years’,” Green said.

Now 53, Leon had been homeless for nearly half his life and for 10 years in the Atlanta area. He’d been living in parks, wooded areas, under highway overpasses or in temporary homeless shelters. He had no identification of his own, which was needed to apply for benefits, housing or for him to receive assistance of any kind.

Leon had not had contact with his family for at least 22 years, and couldn’t begin to guess where they might be. He knew their names, which he shared with Green. It was a start.

A group of VA social workers from Atlanta began the search for Leon’s family using sites like People Search and through contact with the U.S. Immigration office. When they hit a dead end, one of them suggested turning to social media — in this case, Facebook — as a resource.

With Leon’s permission, they used fragments of information from People Search to craft a Facebook post, including the names of Leon’s two sisters.

The next day, Green received a phone call from one of the sisters. She’d seen the post and asked Green if it was a joke. Green assured her that it was not; her brother was being cared for by VA. The sister said that the family had been looking for Leon, and expressed that she wanted to come pick him up so they could be together.

“I’ve been a social worker for 30 years and I’ve never experienced a case like this,” Green explained, saying it reminded her of “why I do what I do and why I choose to work for the VA.”

German LeonWith help from the sisters, VA staff was able to collection missing information about Leon, including his original immigration documents and reunite him with his sister. Unfortunately Leon’s mother passed away earlier in the year.

German Leon

Veteran German Leon with his sister Marta Judge Sallie.

The sisters say their mother “never gave up hope” that Leon would come home someday.

Leon now resides with his sisters in Charleston, South Carolina.

The care VA provided Leon was arranged through the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program (HCHV), which aims to provide temporary shelter for homeless Veterans. The goal of the program is to reduce homelessness among Veterans by conducting outreach to those who are the most vulnerable and not currently receiving services and engaging them in treatment and rehabilitative programs.

If you know a homeless Veteran in need of help, dial 1-877-4AID-VET to reach the National Homeless Veterans Call Center.


Editor’s note:  Eric A. Brown, public affairs specialist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, contributed to this story.

Author

Meagan Heup

Meagan began working for VA in the Office of Public Affairs in 2010. Since then, she has worked as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of Media Relations.

Comments

  1. Patricia Kelly-Banks    

    This hits close to home with our brother in a similar situation. He’s had a tough time ever since the Air Force and after living with our Mother we’ve wanted him to relocate. We’re happy to hear this man has found his family-I’m sure their
    Mother in Heaven had something to do with reuniting them all together. Ours has been worried and after her passing
    we have discovered how his illnesses were a result of toxic exposure during his Military Service-no longer a mystery!

    1. Susan English    

      Was he exposed to toxins while living in a base? We lived on a base in Cape Cod, MA which was the number one Superfund Site in the country. The main toxin in the aquifers was benzene. Soil/water contamination. All hush hush back then.

  2. Ron Chapman    

    The work that VA did to help Leon is a great example of the care that VA has for the veterans. All too often the media only presents negative press about the VA. It would be good for a change if they would report the service that VA performs without thanks!

  3. Jerry Pollard    

    I am a Vet and this story make me ask the question, why do we Vet feel like no one want us. We don’t know how to ask for help or where to go to get the help or even realizing that we need help Am glad this man had a sister who cared. May God bless you.

    1. A Nixon    

      For whatever reason I think we have a higher propensity to wander. I find myself being regulated back into homelessness force through the indifference and incompetents of the VA. I would have never imagined that a program designed to rescue Vets from the streets. I came to Las Vegas with nothing; broke and homeless. Stayed at a Veterans homeless shelter then found a job while paying for my bunk bed. Moved on to another veteran facility where paying for my own studio while awaiting a voucher for HUD VASH and after a year and a half, I received the voucher and move into an apartment. I’ve been given up on having a career as I worked at an airline as a baggage guy. I only worked part-time because I had 2 back surgeries even before the military and I didn’t want to take a health risk so I saved money and traveled through my benefits but I also had prostrate cancer that I fought through, then numerous throat surgeries.
      My luck ran out because I injured my back. The VA sent me to San Diego constantly to prepare for possible spinal fusion. But the housing program began making me pay rent without income, they took away my utility stipend and this has lead to me filing for bankruptcy and closing out my 401K to pay basic bills. I’m totally broke and this alone will send me to the streets. Vets are used like animals in experimental labs.
      I began being homeless when I left for college and had to sleep on the stairs of a church till I got a job at a hotel in exchange for a room for 2 years.
      Most Vets get disillusioned by the overwhelming process, the humiliation and the patronizing. I lived in 6 different cities; multiple times in a couple as I looked for a decent job that my degree never seemed sufficient enough to attract. You lie, stay way or just wander from family out of embarrassment, vanity or just wanting to be a man but many just have no family or friends.
      My brother asked me to check up on his buddy who was an older man like our father. He was in a veterans home and was becoming senile but because of confidentiality the search went nowhere and we assume he’ll die alone. I been homeless in every city and it wears on you, the VA hospital has always been my sanctuary for medical help but this HUD VASH program is just a job creator for government workers and goldmine for property owners. This country take poor kids, tell them to be all they can be and then discard them like toilet paper, delete their benefits while enriching the rich.

  4. Veronica Hayes    

    Wonderful,never give up!

  5. Margaret Guillory    

    This was an awesome story, thanks for sharing with us.

  6. Joanne Ondrak    

    What a beautiful story so sorry had to go through all those years I also am a veteran God bless you and your family

  7. Marie L. luciani    

    Congrats to Patrice Green!! We need more advocates like her. Thank you!

  8. richard Martarano    

    What an amazing story. As a retired Army guy after serving 21 years, it saddens my heart to see what so many service men/women go through. I’m for ever grateful for the services that I’ve received at VA. I’ll forever be indebted to the counselors who helped me sober up almost 5 years ago. I’ll always be an alcoholic, however today, I’m a sober alcoholic. Keep up the awesome work…..

    1. Marisela Ortega    

      Good for him!

      On the other hand, a military wife in Ohio told us VA turned down her veteran husband who suffers a severe case of PTSD after serving in Iraq.

      She says VA told her there are not funds to help her spouse, who no longer is able to work because of his condition.

      Now she set up a GoFundMe account to help pay the bills and gas.

      Wonder if VA really helps those men and women in the military.

    1. Gary Hicks    

      Send it to newmedia@va.gov Mr. Hamlin. We would love to hear it.

  9. Shari    

    Thank you VA in Atlanta for allowing this social worker the resources and abilities to bring this Veteran into shelter, safety and reunite him with his loving, caring and missed family! You Rock, Patrice Green!

  10. Ernest Ivy    

    I’m a veteran and I became homeless in 2000 and the VA provided housing for me until I was able to get on my own again. I still receive my healthcare services from the VA and they take good care of me. I’m glad they were able to help out another fellow brother from the armed forces.

  11. Robert Garms    

    Many times, veterans have experienced things that the dictionary has never listed. Everyone, thinks they know how to fix them. Many, charging thousands to produce nothing of value. First of all, without experience in the handling of a Veteran, humans will never understand them. You can buy 2-3 Doctors degrees and never have a clue, how to deal with the mind of a veteran. You can pretend that your experience allows you to fix a Veteran. First of all, you cannot fix, change, come to terms, with someone that has lived like animals. You have to live this way to hunt for other animals. To kill another human, over and over, requires those who have been trained, to be animals. Only an Animal can kill and continue to kill, until they are discharged. And, once discharged, the US Government has no idea how to take care of these veterans. They work really hard at trying to help. But, they have limited knowledge, to no knowledge of how it will go. Why? Because, every war is different. The eyes of the enemy are different. The families of the enemy are really different. Somehow, they must understand this instantly! War is hell! And, no matter how experience one thinks he/she is outside the bubble. You will never understand the plight of a fighting man. The World is not that intelligent. Best of Luck to all.

  12. Fred Krause    

    I am a 70 years old vet,no family, widowed, a dog and a cat Why do we vets feel like no one wants us? Because 99% of strangers don’t. We all come with some baggage, be it the clothes on your back, or in my case a Urn containing my late wife ashes, a dog and a cat a few boxes of personal items. The good news is there is more help out there than you than can imagine from sources you would have never think of. The bad news is there are people that appear to be kind and compassionate up front, but behind closed doors are cruel controlling demoralizing. I was forced to let my cat of 14 years into a no kill shelter because he thought the little box smelled. The foundation that helped me said find a place and they would have my financial back.It’s too bad that the ad I answered did not live up to the hype . I am to the point that I am ready to abandon the little that I own except for my wife’s urn, and my beloved dog instead of living in fear and find the peace of mind I was searching for.

    1. Jerey R Dean    

      That was a great statement, very true down to every word.

  13. Elizabeth Brown    

    Hi I’m a vet as well this story stings. I’m over joyed that this was a happy ending. I’m at presant trying to open up a nonforproft business for veteran. I’m looking for a place to open to bargain housings my military brother,sisters & families ww

  14. DAVID REITTER    

    Bart Bergdaht was homeless & President Obama rescued him .

    Medals of Honor for everyone , including the homeless.

  15. Laurie Harper wife of a Vietnam veteran    

    Mr. Pollard,
    The DAV is a wonderful organizaton they represent our veterans. There is a DAV office located in every VA office.

  16. John Leo Weber    

    Thanks for sharing! We need more stuff like this in our political system.

Comments are closed.