It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village Part 3

"There are times you just have nightmares and dreams of your experience. One of the big things is a lot of guys turn to alcoholism," says Air Force veteran Phillip Mullins. Mullins knows all too well how tragic life after military service can be. After fighting for our freedom, the hero returned home- where his life started to unravel. Phillip ended up heartbroken and homeless.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says a fifth of all homeless people are veterans and 76 percent of all vets have alcohol, drug or mental health problems.

"The drug is a very devastating drug. It takes control of your life," says Air Force veteran Harry Fordham. He hit his lowest point when his cocaine habit landed him behind bars. "My rock bottom was while I was incarcerated and my parents died. They were my safety net," says Fordham. Bill Bunting's life fell apart too. After his military duty, his wife died of cancer. And, he ended up searching for meals and sleeping on the streets.

"I didn't care what life had to offer, had no ambition," says Bunting.

But now- these men are finding victory at the village.

Seven people make up the staff at The Tallahassee Veterans Village. They're teaching the vets how to once again become productive members of society. The men and women who live at the village are handed plenty of resources. But there are strict rules here...you get up to two years in the program...and you have to want to succeed.

“If you make one step, they'll make two or three," says Fordham.

It is seems those steps are leading these vets down the right path.

Phillip has been in the program for 10 months. In that short time, he's completed his physical therapy prerequisites at TCC... and learned how to use art as therapy.

It helps me to see that even though you make mistakes, you can always correct them," he says. The honor student is now headed to Lake City to begin courses needed to launch his physical therapy career.

Harry has been cocaine-free for four years. And the talented artist and honor student now has two pieces of artwork published in a statewide magazine...and even more work on display.

"If you're honest about what you want to do, education-wise-if you have a physical problem, a mental problem, they'll try to help you with your resolve."

Bill has graduated from the Tallahassee Veterans Village. He now has a steady job as a construction worker and has reconnected with his family.

The men credit the Village for being a big part of their transformation.

"The counselors and staff- they care...and not just because you're a veteran. They care about you personally," says Bunting.

"It's amazing when you get to see someone change their life for the better," says Tallahassee Veterans Village employee Ellen Cole.

"I know that things have changed for me...and that's a good feeling," says Fordham.

For more information about the Tallahassee Veterans Village, call (850) 575-3140.

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It Takes a Village Part 2

Meet Tallahassee resident 45 year old Phillip Mullins:

The Air Force Veteran served in the Persian Gulf War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

These eyes have witnessed a lot of devastation. "I saw a lot of dead bodies, you know swollen. I saw like burnt out duece in a half on vehicles with people still in them. Those images are still there, all the dead guys, guys cut in half with just rounds that shouldn't have been used on people. But it's war and war is not an easy thing," says Mullins. Life after war wasn't an easy thing for Phillip either. The husband and father was a language arts teacher at Florida High in Tallahassee for 8 years. But relationships began to unravel. He says the military taught him how to stay in defense mode. That attitude trickled over into his post military life.

"You bring all these guys from all over the country and pull them into this philosophy. Into- hey- you need to be able to put your life on the line for your country. It takes a lot of psychology to do that," says Mullins.

Phillip and his wife divorced- and before he knew it he was sleeping in his car and eventually ended up behind bars.

51 year old Bill Bunting is a Navy veteran. He served during the Ayatollah hostage situation in the late 70s and early 80s. He says he's witnessed a lot of gloom and doom.

"I've seen people get blown off the side of aircraft carriers," says Bunting. After war, Bill says he returned home to even more tragedy. "I lost my wife to breast cancer and pretty much gave up on everything." That's when his life started spiraling out of control. Before he knew it, Bill was living under bridges- and wondering where his next meal would come from.

Then there’s 59 year old Harry Fordham. A talented artist- this Air Force veteran never participated in active war. For him, the real war was battling the lifestyle he fell into after his military service.

Harry turned to a life of drugs and crime. He was addicted to cocaine and would do just about anything for a hit. He even sold drugs just to supply his habit...that's what landed him in the Leon County jail.

For Harry, his room at the Veterans Village and his artwork have been a safe haven...but he admits it takes a lot of discipline. That's because it's just a ten minute walk to the streets that caused him so much heartache.

“That same area is where I did a lot of my drug use. I could walk down there today and some of the same ole faces and people who I knew are still doing the same ole thing unfortunately," says Fordham

Different, destructive paths led these men to the Tallahassee Veterans Village. A place where there's help for the hopeless.

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It Takes a Village Part 1

At the corner of Lake Bradford Road and Kissimmee Street in Tallahassee sits what appears to be a normal apartment complex. But on the other side of the walls- is a village of people, helping veterans completely turn around their lives.

It's been the best thing that's ever happened to me. The counselors and the staff that's here, they care," says veteran Bill Bunting.

Amazingly, The Tallahassee Veterans Village has just seven employees. But what the crew offers is monumental, a combination of resources and hope for those who have gone from heroes to homeless.

"You think- oh- they worked in the military, they'll get out and they're taken care of. The only problem is they're given a huge packet of information that they may not necessarily read or understand. And unfortunately they can have benefits out there they don't even know they have," says Tallahassee Veterans Village employee Ellen Cole.

The village can house 52 vets at a time. They have an 11 p.m. curfew. No alcohol or drugs are allowed on the campus and vets are subject to random drug testing and room searches.

The men and women who get accepted into the program must attend weekly meetings, self improvement classes and check in with their counselors once a day.

The Vet Village isn't just a housing complex, it's a therapeutic community. A garden on the campus is just one example of how the vets are growing in all aspects of life…even couponing.

"The village has given a lot to me. They have extraordinary personnel who work here. They're very professional, but not only that, they're caring," says veteran Harry Fordham.

The program has been up and running for just 18 months. But already they have about 15 successful graduates. The vets get up to two years in the program. In that time counselors create bonds that ultimately end with a goodbye. "Watching people overcome some of the things, as you'll see in the stories- are just amazing to me. I mean you get rock bottom down and you think you've hit rock bottom down in your life at some point. It's nothing compared to what some of these individuals have gone through," says Cole.


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