Veterans at the received a visit from Congressman Steve Israel, Mets Chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon, and former Mets players John Franco and Ed Charles Friday morning. Before visiting with patients in the hospital, the group addressed an audience of VA staff, Veterans, and their families, discussing the issues facing veterans at home and abroad.
"We have a lot of work to do in this country," said Israel. "Twenty percent of the service members coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. The unemployment rate in the US is now 9 percent but if you're coming back from Iraq or Afghan it's 15 percent. On Veterans Day 107,000 vets will go to bed homeless."
One such homeless veteran was Joe Soukue, a Vietnam veteran whose undiagnosed PTSD caused his life to spin out of control.
"He couldn't sleep at night--the nightmares were flashbacks--and because he couldn't sleep, he lost his productivity at work. And because of that he lost his job. And because of that he turned to alcohol. And because of that he turned to drugs, he lost his family, he didn't pay his bills, and he ended up in a car in a shopping center in Commack," said Israel.
One night a brutal ice storm hit Long Island and Joe decided he would take his life, said Israel. He began driving looking for a bridge, but whether it whether it was divine intervention or fear of dying, something told him not to drive off a bridge, but to drive to the Northport VA. There, Joe's PTSD was diagnosed and treated at the VA and now he has his life back together, even donating some money to other veterans with PTSD.
"We live in a country that gives us the right to agree with the decision to go to war, we have the right to disagree, you have the right to remain silent, but nobody has a right to forget the tens of thousands of troops that are in Iraq today and the over one hundred thousand US troops in Afghanistan," said Israel.