One Veterans perspective on homelessness, PTSD and VA’s H-PACT teams


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Junior Masaniai

Junior Masaniai

My name is Junior Masaniai. I am a 47-year-old U.S. Army Veteran diagnosed with combat-related PTSD and severe methamphetamine (ice) and alcohol addictions.

My military career as a 13 Foxtrot Forward Observer was successful for the first 4 years of my 7-year term in the U.S. Army. During my last 3 years of service, I went through a series of living nightmares downrange. My life turned upside down and all I knew to do was self-medicate with alcohol every day until my honorable discharge sent me back home to Oahu in 1994.

A year later, my ice addiction started. I was drinking and smoking every day to try to numb the pain of war. Unfortunately, my life and health deteriorated as a result. I lost jobs, relationships with my family, and the trust of people who counted on me. In 2000, I ran. I was still running away from the guilt, shame, and anger of what I went through in the war. Chronic homelessness and life on the streets became my new reality until I found out about the VA Leeward CBOC in 2013. Another homeless Veteran friend of mine saw me on the streets and said he had been getting help from the H-PACT team. He told me to go get help.

I was homeless for 13 long years and ended up living in a cultural garden in Waipahu. I lived in the bushes under the stars with everything that came with it. It was bad. It was survival. I showered in rivers and slept on rocks. Hungry. Dirty. Mosquitos. Centipedes. Ice. Fights. Pakalolo (Hawaiian word for marijuana). Alcohol.

It was a life of criminal activity fueled by drugs and untreated, severe PTSD. I didn’t know what PTSD was then, only what I was going through, and that my mental suffering was endless and wasn’t getting better.

After years of torment by my PTSD, I became depressed and suicidal, feeling like nothing was worth living for anymore. I finally reached out in a desperate attempt. I walked into the Leeward CBOC, scummy, filthy, drunken, high and scared out of my mind. I went to the front counter and asked for help. I was desperate. I was lost and had nowhere else to go. It was my last straw.

The CBOC staff opened doors for me. That first day I met my social worker, Mr. Robin Kim, who explained how the H-PACT clinic could assist me. Doors instantly opened. I was given choices and treatment for my mental and physical illnesses. That’s when I met my primary care provider, Dr. Curtis Nakatsu, and my psychologist, Dr. Brian Kelley. We dealt with my severe substance addiction and chronic homelessness first.

Due to my trust for Mr. Kim and Dr. Kelley, I invited them to my world in the culture garden. My drug addict friends ran like the wind, thinking it was a federal sting – we were all living on the other side of the law. We walked through the mud, dirt, taro fields and trash. We walked through my little war zone where I was reliving my nightmares. My VA providers came into my world, we talked through the story, and I knew I could trust them.

Within 2 months, I was able to get approved for a HUD-VASH voucher with the help of Ms. Natalie Luong-Weeks, and I was given permanent housing at a place called Cloudbreak.

The timing was this: housing, sobriety and then PTSD treatment. I completed VA’s outpatient substance abuse treatment program. I never thought in my life I would ever be clean and sober again. Today I am grateful to say that I am 1.5 years clean and sober, with a healthier body and clear mind to make better life choices and pursue new goals in the path of my deeply personal walk with Christ.

Now, I was ready to treat my PTSD. I engaged in cognitive processing therapy that helped calm the demons in me. I was able to understand, and accept what happened downrange in a real and honest way. My beliefs about what happened truly changed and I felt less guilty and tormented. The self-blame and horrendous guilt and shame that ate me alive for so many years finally let up. The war is over and the PTSD therapy finally allowed me to believe and feel that this was actually true. I am forever grateful for that.

Now, I teach Sunday School classes for children at my church and this helps me to give back. I am truly grateful to have walked into the Leeward CBOC and to have followed the suggestions of the H-PACT team. I’m humbly at the doorstep of a promising career and a renewed quality of life. I give my deepest gratitude and thanks to my H-PACT team who never gave up on me when everyone else did.

Author

Junior Masaniai

Comments

  1. Kamaile Dias    

    Hey!! Aloha Bruddah!!! Mahalo nui for your comments. Am originally from Hawaii and a Vietnam Era Vet. U`i ohana photo!!!

  2. Sharon    

    Thanks for sharing. There are many of us in search for what you have found. God Bless you and continue to thrive!

  3. Marty Coleman    

    Way to go Junior ! From an artillery unit to the streets, and all that comes with it, we have walked the same path. Stay strong and be an example to any of our brothers and sisters who may still be suffering out there. Mahalo for sharing.

  4. Patrick jahnke    

    Will it only in some towns, need to work harder thier right under ur noses feet .

  5. Danny    

    Junior, CONGRATULATIONS! I have been there. Meth, Jack Daniels& Jose Cuervo used to be my best friends. I haven’t seen them in about 20 yrs. You stay strong my brother, and when tempted, turn to your faith. What helps me is looking in the mirror & thinking about who I USED to see, & who I see now, then deciding who I like more. God bless you.

  6. Ana Cuebas    

    I am very glad you are finally in control and doing well. I can understand because I went thru such a period myself. The least we can do for ourselves and society is take advantage of VAs services and get a decent life. Keep up the good work.

  7. Elle D.    

    Bless your heart, Junior. So glad you found the H-PACT team who never gave up on you when everyone else did. I hope other Veterans read your story and can get help, too. Just last month two weeks before Christmas, I saw a Veteran standing on the street next to a major shopping center with a “Homeless Veteran” sign, begging for money. He was clean-shaven, and not raggedy. It breaks my heart to see Vets in this state of helplessness and homelessness. It just isn’t right. And it doesn’t have to be this way. I told him to go on the eBenefits site and apply for help with housing and other benefits that are there for him and all Veterans. Thank you ever so much for your service to our country and our freedom. I am deeply grateful. We are all indebted to you and all Veterans and Active Duty Service Men and Women who make great sacrifices to keep us free.

    Because freedom isn’t free.

    I salute you!

    1. Jack French    

      Yes…It is so good to hear a positive story of VA people who DID NOT give up….

  8. Ted Herbert    

    Welcome Home young Brother.
    USN 66-70

  9. Tim Gang    

    Beautiful story , I wish I could work at the va as a substance abuse therapist.

  10. Tim Gang    

    Beautiful story, Im trying to get involved to help others at the va hospital in Indianapolis. Just no luck at getting hired?

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