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Veteran Describes Vietnam & Addiction

William Piersall is a 61-year-old navy veteran, born and raised in Richmond, who served for two years during the Vietnam War. He is now a resident at our Veteran’s Transitional Shelter because of the struggles that led to his homelessness.

Unlike some other servicemen, William was willing to talk about his time in the military. He shared, “I was excited, but after I got placed in ordnance, it started messing with my nerves. I looked to drugs and alcohol to help me deal with it and to show I wasn’t scared of anything. It was very dangerous to handle those weapons day-in and day-out.”

An accident in dealing with those weapons caused William to change forever and his anxiety escalated. He described the constant fear of thinking that the enemy might “kamikaze the ship at any time” and when his service ended, William lost control. “I just went downhill. I had no coping skills. I was angry, and I don’t know why. I just stayed drunk and high,” he said.

His addiction to drugs and alcohol made it difficult to hold a job and led to William being incarcerated for 15 years. He described prison as “another kind of warzone… it’s like walking on eggshells, just trying to survive.”

In jail, he tried to commit suicide and that depression lingered past his release. Because of these issues, William ended up living on the streets alone. William looked for a “geographical cure” and moved to Florida for a fresh start. However, a failed attempt to succeed there and in rehab caused him to move again- this time to Tennessee, where met a woman who helped him get clean. They eventually got married and he remained sober for ten years. When things took a downward turn and they got divorced, he relapsed and was overcome with addiction again.

William returned to Virginia to visit with his ailing mother, and after her death, he struggled once more with suicidal thoughts and landed back on the streets. His journey to HomeAgain began when police were called to interfere with his attempt to end his life. Holding a knife to his own throat, responders convinced William to get help.

When asked how he felt about HomeAgain, he said, “They’ve given me a place to stay and structure, which is important to me… Here, the light bulb went on.”

He is currently receiving the support needed to remain sober and is studying to hopefully enroll in the VA hospital’s peer specialist program in order to work as a counselor for other distressed veterans.

William explained, “My experience in the VA’s mental health and wellness program inspired me. My peer specialists were talking from experience. I told them ‘I want to do this’.”

“I had so much fear, but you’re a man – you can’t admit that you’re scared. It builds over the years. I didn’t even know that I had depression. The mental health field has made great changes over the past fifteen years. I didn’t get this level of support before,” he said.

Since examining his life and time without a home, William has decided to triumph over his addiction issues. “I’ve always wanted to help other people. But I know I needed to help myself… drinking isn’t the problem; it is a symptom of the problem.” Now, with our help, he is determined to find a solution.