Ryan was the first vet I interviewed that day at U.S. Vets. As I talked to him, I simply couldn’t believe that Ryan was just 21. It’s not that he didn’t look young, but the way he talked and what he was talking about reflected the experiences of someone much older.
By the age of 18, Ryan was fending for himself and figuring out what to do with his life while I was enjoying the training wheels/daycare we know as college. During his two and a half years in the Navy, Ryan was grappling with the forces of life and death. When he got out, Ryan was forced to experience the warped priorities of our government and face a country that claims to revere soldiers while leaving them out in the cold. At 21, I was coasting through my senior year of college, trying not to think about the future. At 21, Ryan had done what he was supposed to, but had no idea what the future held. At 21, Ryan was homeless, and the country he served didn’t give a damn.
At 21, Ryan is a guy who should have his whole future in front of him. He should be looking at a world of limitless possibilities. That’s what America is supposed to be all about, right? But because he served our country and because our government has little interest in supporting those who served, Ryan, at 21, is in trouble. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him. One slip up and he could be out on the streets again. He feels like the country he served has turned his back on him and that he has no place in it. Ryan wants to get a job, have a place to live, and be just like everyone else. He’s not asking for anything special. He’s trying, but his government isn’t helping. If it weren’t for the good people at U.S. Vets, it’s hard to know where Ryan would be right now. He might just be another statistic, another number lost to addiction, mental illness, or suicide. A number with no name or face.
Bill O’Reilly wants to pretend that everything is great. That homeless vets want to be homeless, that vets with substance abuse want to be addicts. He wants to blame Ryan’s problems on Ryan, not the system and people who ignore him. I don’t mean to diminish him, but Ryan is 21. He’s just a kid. Where were you and what were you doing at 21? What had you seen and experienced? What had your country done to you? Ryan served his country for 2 ½ years. His country said it would welcome him back with open arms and help him get a good job at a good wage so he could make a good living because he deserves it. At 21, Ryan is living at U.S. Vets in transitional housing while millionaires who never served like O’Reilly shit all over him.
There’s something wrong with that picture. You know it. I know it. And Ryan knows it. In fact, Ryan has to live it.