Veterans Voices: Homelessness, addiction, and suicide- leader talks past, solutions

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ROCHESTER, NY (WROC)— Nick Stefanovic is the director of Monroe County’s veteran services. His job is to help veterans transition to civilian life, and stay successful. But there are some major issues facing veterans today, one being homelessness. A process he’d like to streamline. 

“So if somebody comes in off the street, what are you doing, where do they go, who do you call, how fast can we get them a bed?” he says.

Another major hurdle for struggling veterans: addiction. Stefanovic wants greater education and admission to facilities in the region. 

“The detox centers, the substance abuse clinics, they have to be accessible,” says Stefanovic.

Suicide, another challenge that tends to go hand-in-hand with homelessness and drug addiction. Stefanovic says we lose about 22 veterans a day in the US to suicide. The ‘why’ or pattern, unclear.

“It’s been studied for years, and we’re desperately trying to find out what it is,” he says.

Stefanovic is a Marine, serving three combat tours in Afghanistan. When he left in 2006, he became intimately familiar with struggles like addiction and homelessness. 

“It took me about two years to really fall hard enough to where I became homeless,” he says adding, “By 2008, I was under a bridge, then living in a hotel, and then wound up in the criminal justice system.”

Stefanovic first got hooked on oxycontin and then heroin. A program called ‘veterans court‘ saved his life. It’s a program that gives vets in legal trouble a second chance. 

“…Treatment court has is the most successful model in the entire country when it comes to veterans who have wound up in the criminal justice system,” he says.

He wants to see this system prioritized with greater funding. Homelessness, drug abuse, and suicide oftentimes go hand in hand with legal trouble he says.

“And the transformation that the court allows to happen is astonishing.” If you need proof, just look at Stefanovic.

Stefonovic in Afghanistan

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