The new domestic war: A veteran’s fight for basic human needs

18-1Kenneth “Steve” McQueen spent eight years, one month and 28 days in the Marine Corps, working in mortars tech, avionics, offshore medical services, and even as a game warden on base. He never imagined, however, that following his service he would become one of 49,933 homeless veterans living in the United States, and one living with a rare form of malignant cancer.

Born of a strong military background, McQueen decided to join his familial ranks of service in the Marine Corps. In his service, he visited the Philippines, Taiwan and other Pacific nations, as well as served stateside in the U.S. He describes this time as one of perpetual “readiness,” for any threat or deployment needed in non-wartime conditions. Upon honorable discharge, he, his wife and children moved to Kentucky, North Carolina and Colorado, where he worked in various industries, including as a police officer in a rural town, retail sporting goods, driving taxis and construction. For McQueen, the employment was never as stable as he would have liked, especially in supporting his then-wife and five kids.

Last year, one week before Thanksgiving, McQueen noticed acute pain in the left side of his abdomen, and was taken to the hospital for treatment. What was originally thought to be appendicitis, turned out to be a rare form of t-cell lymphoma – a one in 6,000 diagnosis, which later became b-cell lymphoma; an even rarer and more aggressive classification of the disease.

Sadly, McQueen and his wife grew apart during the initial stages of his treatment, as she was suffering her own medical issues, and by mid-spring the two had separated and were going through the process of divorce. McQueen didn’t have many options. His diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatments prevented him from working, and created thousands of dollars of medical costs.  And, he and his wife’s separation meant he didn’t have a stable residence either. He reached out to his brother for guidance—also a military veteran, who was going through hard times and staying at a homeless shelter in Aurora, Colorado, called Comitis Crisis Center. Veterans and their families are eligible for a free room with a bathroom for two whole years at Comitis.

The Comitis Crisis Center provides emergency, short and long-term shelter and care for many populations in need, including veterans and their families, single and dual-parent families, individuals, runaway teens, and women just out of incarceration. Each population is given access to medical, dental and mental health services, and is offered personal and professional development courses, such as parenting classes, group therapy, substance use treatment, resume and work skill-building classes. Comitis’ goal is to see that every resident who enters the shelter is given case management and guidance to determine the “next best step” in their path to recovery and economic stability. For McQueen, this meant the opportunity to stay with his brother during one of the most difficult times of his life.

“If it wasn’t for Comitis, I know I’d be sleeping under a bridge. Who knows what my treatments would be like?” he said.

Six months after his first round of chemotherapy, McQueen is slowly regaining his strength and energy. The staff at Comitis helped him connect to his benefits through the VA and disability, offering him income as he undergoes treatment.

“This place has given me support through my struggles. I’ve found many people here with similar struggles… hearing their stories and getting to share mine has given me hope that things will turn around. Everyone is supportive of everyone here.” When asked what his favorite class to take at Comitis is, McQueen replied with a smile, “the cooking ones. Eating healthy and nutritiously is critical to my recovery, and they’re teaching me how to do this for myself.”

McQueen’s story is one of hundreds at Comitis, where individuals and families struggle at any given time to make ends meet. Coupled with medical and health issues, the loss of a home can be devastating. McQueen said, “You can’t control what’s happening in your life, but by taking it one day at a time, things will improve. I never thought I would be homeless, since I’ve always prided myself on work ethic and had been working since I was 16. But what I learned is that you can’t be ashamed to reach out for help when you need it. Comitis has helped me, and I’m on a new path and looking forward to a new future.”

At the time of this interview, Kenneth McQueen’s cancer is 100 percent in remission, and he is looking forward to moving into a new residence – a house – with a few friends he’s made at Comitis. As a matter of fact, Comitis is Latin for “friendship”.

The Comitis Crisis Center also provides substance use disorder and mental health treatment 100 percent free-of-charge. In a time when over 900,000 veterans were recorded as “waitlisted for services” through the VA (2013) and with one veteran committing suicide every 65 minutes (2013), we believe that those who have served should not come home to only fight another war; this one being on a personal front.

Join our fight for our veterans! Learn more or consider making a tax-deductible, charitable donation today at https://www.coloradgives.org/ComitisCrisisCenter/overview, or call 720-975-0155, ext. 13

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