Programs aim to give addicted AZ vets hope - KCTV5

KEEPING THE PROMISE

Programs aim to give addicted AZ vets hope

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Jama Carpenter, a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix, says veterans "have a really hard time asking for help." (Source: CBS 5 News) Jama Carpenter, a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix, says veterans "have a really hard time asking for help." (Source: CBS 5 News)
John Hankins says the loss of a friend helped get him on the road to sobriety. (Source: CBS 5 News) John Hankins says the loss of a friend helped get him on the road to sobriety. (Source: CBS 5 News)
John Hyslope has been on the streets for 26 years and says he got sober on his own. (Source: CBS 5 News) John Hyslope has been on the streets for 26 years and says he got sober on his own. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

(This is the last in a series of stories by CBS 5 News morning anchor Nicole Crites looking at the issues Arizona military veterans face as they return to civilian life.)

Studies show that U.S. military veterans have an exponentially higher rate of addiction than the people they signed up to serve.

It doesn't seem right, but it is the harsh reality: Alcohol and drugs take over many of their lives.

But there is some hope and solutions, such as a peer support program with the Department of Veterans Affairs and a Maricopa County "veteran's court" programs that offers addicted veterans rehabilitation and other services to help cut their jail time.

"It was either livin' in a meth house - or be homeless, so I chose homelessness," said U.S. Air Force veteran John Hankins.

Hankins never finished high school.

He signed up to serve and for four years as an Air Force Minuteman missile technician was told what to do, how to dress, how to act, even how to kill.

Even while serving, he was not immune to the temptations of drug use.

"I had people tossin' some to me and I'd toss it right back," Hankins said. "They said, 'You didn't do any.' I said, 'You're right.'"

When he got out, he wound up wandering the Arizona desert - literally.

For six years he slept out in a wildlife refuge, where he gave in to methamphetamine, just like all his friends.

"It was the good and the bad. The bad way outweighed the good," he said. "The good only lasted a few minutes. The bad lasted for days."

John Hyslope fell to a similar fate, only with alcohol.

"I was a bad vodka drunk," Hyslope admitted.

Hyslope, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been on the street for the past 26 years.

"I got really bad and I went through about a three-year stint where I went through hallucinations, skin color turning yellow sometimes," he said.

For Hyslope, booze became a quick fix for the good meal and shelter he couldn't afford.

"Well, I would get blasted outta my mind - every day," Hyslope said. "It wasn't just to get by. I'd get blasted so bad, I'd quit blacking out."

At one point, Hyslope ended up in the hospital in a coma for two days.

"They have a really hard time asking for help," said Jama Carpenter, a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix.

Carpenter said that every veteran is screened for substance abuse when they enter the system, but not every addict is ready for an intervention.

One of the VA's most successful programs is its peer support groups.

"Being in treatment with other veterans is so powerful for them," Carpenter said, "because they're around other veterans who they feel understand what they've been through."

Hyslope said he has never registered with any of the VA hospitals, still has a beer every now and then, but got sober on the street on his own.

Hankins went through a life-changing event that put him on the path to sobriety.

He said he's been clean for about 18 months, after he lost a friend to meth addiction.

"I didn't wanna go to county jail like he did and have a heart attack," Hankins said.

A lot of addictions result in criminal charges.

In fact, Hyslope told CBS 5 News he currently has an active warrant out of Tucson.

The VA is trying to catch the veterans who have slipped through or have been turned from the system and give them a second chance.

Maricopa County has one of the biggest "veteran's court" programs in the country, offering veterans diversion into rehabilitation and other services to reduce their jail time.

Veteran's court in the county has been so successful that the city of Phoenix started a similar diversion program to get veterans into available services to avoid jail and find a path to sobriety.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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