“Tell them ‘Welcome back home’,” said Army veteran and Bayport native, Shannon Jones, about how best to honor servicemen and women.
“Don’t just do it for November for Veterans Day or May for Memorial Day; do it when you see them, because they really need it.”
Jones enlisted in the reserves in 1996 shortly after graduating from Bayport-Blue Point High School and then went on active duty a year later with 51B (Bravo) and 75H (Hotel).
Currently, she works for Long Island National Cemetery as a cemetery representative who handles the logistics, and often the emotions, for veterans’ families handling the final stage of service.
But before professionally handling the end of a veteran’s journey, Jones, who has studied and worked as a nurse in veterans’ hospitals, has also, sadly, been there to witness the tragic fall of heroes who suffer from service injuries and trauma as they battle mental illness and far too often, homelessness.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January 2022:
33,129 veterans were experiencing homelessness.
19,565 veterans were sheltered, while 13,564 veterans were unsheltered.
Most veterans experience homelessness as individuals; only 3 percent were homeless as part of a family household with children.
88.7 percent were men, while 10.4 percent (3,440 veterans) were women.
Research indicates that those who served in the late-Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras are at the greatest risk of becoming homeless, but that veterans from more recent wars and conflicts are also affected.
“Veterans returning from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq often face invisible wounds of war, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which correlate with homelessness,” according to the National Alliance.
“A lot of veterans grow distrustful of systems after being in such a regimented lifestyle for so long,” said Jones. “For a lot of veterans, especially combat veterans from the Vietnam War, they still carry the trauma of being treated so poorly when they returned from service.”
Jones said she has answered the often middle-of-the-night calls from fellow veterans in the throes of homelessness or mental health crisis and is thankful for the strong network that exists on Long Island of “brothers and sisters.”
Women veterans are also a particularly vulnerable group according to Jones, who said their experiences in a male-dominated culture can be a source of trauma, with far-reaching consequences into their post-enlistment life.
“We find each other, usually on social media,” said Jones of the women veterans she has contacted throughout the years.
In one moment that stuck with Jones over the years, a woman veteran, who had relocated to the South from New York, was exhibiting a breakdown on social media and she worked in tandem with another veteran and was able to get local law enforcement to do a wellness check and get the help they needed.
This past weekend, Jones and a women’s veterans’ group named Military Women Supporting Others marched in a parade in East Moriches to honor their service, and for Breast Cancer Month, were able to donate pink pillows to cancer patients, both veteran and civilian.
“A lot of the problem is isolation, and feeling alone,” said Jones. “The holiday season is the toughest for veterans.”
Aside from donating to veteran charities, Jones said opening up your home on Thanksgiving or Christmas to a veteran without family, or nearby family, can make a world of difference to them.
“When I was in Texas, people did that for veterans, and I can’t tell you how much it boosted morale,” said Jones.
In the community, Jones said she was thankful for all the veteran benefits and discounts offered by local stores.
“It’s awesome; every little bit helps,” said Jones.
But the best and most profound way to thank a veteran this Nov. 11, according to Jones, is “to tell them what they mean to you, because they might doubt that they had an impact.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here