Sometimes, the toughest battle is the unseen one. Watch veterans talk about how MISSION UNITED has helped them. The video, produced by United Way of Central Georgia, also features Robert H. McMahon, a retired United States Air Force major general who currently serves as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment.
Marcellus Webb starting drinking while on active duty as medical specialist in the United States Army. Then, he broke his back. Although the Macon-area veteran eventually regained the ability to walk using a cane, the effects of mixing prescription medications and alcohol, coupled with a mostly solitary lifestyle, had worn him down.
When he began working with a United Way of Central Georgia MISSION UNITED caseworker in late summer 2017, he was living in a barely-habitable trailer in the woods outside of Macon. And he was preparing to do what he thought needed to be done.
"No one would find me, I would just be missing," he told United Way staff of his suicide plans.
The U.S. is home to approximately 22 million military veterans, and 11 to 20 percent of them have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many more go undiagnosed and never receive treatment. Even with that treatment, some service members succumb to their invisible wounds.
"It's just shocking that this is happening to them--and for a lot of them, like Marcellus, it's because they're alone," said Scott Ross, director of United Way of Central Georgia MISSION UNITED. "We didn't realize he was in such a bad place. Once we started interviewing him, he told us he had been suicidal. When you've had so little for so long like he had, you don't believe in yourself anymore."
One hurdle for advocates is veterans’ frequent reluctance to ask for help.
"We're trained to be tough. You don’t want to put the burden on someone else," said Ross, who is also a U.S. Air Force veteran. In central Georgia, veterans now have an outlet to share experiences, thoughts and feelings with those who have had similar struggles.
At its core, MISSION UNITED helps with the challenges veterans face after returning home from service by working with partners to align existing services and create solutions when there are gaps in support. In its first year, central Georgia's program served nearly 90 veterans and their families. In the past four months, the number of clients has doubled, and Ross is looking to hire an additional case manager. He's also been focused on gathering and connecting experts and resources.
"We've united the community around this issue, but not just to help people -- we're trying to improve processes, and not work in a vacuum," Ross said. "To me, that's the exciting piece of United Way; people coming together for a common cause and growing a community."
It's been a little over a year since Webb met the MISSION UNITED team. He's moved into a new apartment and has a job at a veterinarian clinic. Now that he's a member of a community, he started to feel valued again.