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23 March 2019

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3/23/19 #SameHere Hero: Natasha

Today’s #SameHere🤙Hero: Natasha, the founder of John’s Amazing Grace Foundation.

 

This topic & initiative is so near & dear to my heart. As someone who suffered/suffers w PTSD, but was never a serviceman, my heart breaks for all the servicemen/women who come back from duties & are labeled by society as “damaged” or “unfit.” We should be looking at MH & PTSD across a functional continuum where we are all in it together – not one where servicemen/women are treated like outcasts bc of the severity of how they’re affected.

 

Natasha shares in her story that recent figures show that 50% of homeless are Vets. WOW! We are NOT being fair to them, we are not taking care of them – systematically the way we should. I’m proud of organizations like Natasha’s (pls follow their page) that are being proactive about his major issue.

 

John’s Amazing Grace Foundation is an Atlanta, Georgia based 501(c)3 organization dedicated to serving the needs of homeless and transitioning Veterans in Metro Atlanta. Our founder and Atlanta native, Ms. Natasha Leonard, is a young entrepreneur who has a strong love for our country’s military.  The love stems from her personal life’s hero, her Grandad, SGT. John H. Smith.  During a critical WWII mission in which SGT. Smith served as a Police Officer, he and his fellow servicemen were tasked with transporting prisoners from Umejima, Japan. On their trip back, the submarine was surrounded by the enemy.  Once their Lieutenant realized they were outnumbered, he gathered his soldiers and called for the Chaplain because it was being declared as an ambush.

 

Everyone’s thoughts were that the US. Soldiers would surely die. However, as the Chaplain began to pray, the soldiers began to sing Amazing Grace. As they continued to sing, the vessel stayed its course and miraculously went unnoticed. It made it safely past enemy lines unnoticed and unharmed.  This story is very emotional for Ms. Leonard as it made her realize the everyday sacrifices that our Armed Forces make.  No, no one tells them to give up or risk their lives, but it’s out of love for us and their country that they make this decision.  And in doing so, these soldiers risk their lives for the American people to live the everyday luxuries that we so freely enjoy.  We are able to smile in peace because there aren’t bombings and wars going on in our back yards.

 

Many of our servicemen make it back, however, the statement is not always true for their minds.  Ms. Leonard witnessed first-hand the effects of service related trauma and PTSD when a good friend of hers returned home from serving in the US. Military. The person that she knew prior to the departure had been taken away.  He entered into the United States Army in 2005 and was discharged in 2009 after serving his term.  While enlisted, he spent a tour in Afrghaistan in which he would dodge bombings on a daily basis and witnessed several killings, burning bodies, and bodies in multiple pieces while the victims were still alive.

 

When she would speak with him over the phone, she could hear the bombs going off as if they were across the street.  When he returned to the United States, it was clear to see that his life would never be the same.  There were small signs at first.  As his parents stated, he would walk the floors all night, he would toss and turn in his sleep and sometimes jump as if he was being tortured.  There would be days in which he would not sleep at all, but this was just the beginning.

 

Years went by and her friend never spoke about the events of the war, his feelings or what he was currently feeling.  It wasn’t until he hit a rough patch in life that everything began to spiral out of control.  The mechanisms in which he would use to cope with the PTSD were no longer working.

 

It required more pain relieving techniques, which sometimes required self medicating and those voices that he use to hush and hide, were no longer willing to be quiet.  Each day became more and more difficult to deal with which resulted in him hitting rock bottom.  He had lost everything, his job, his home, and all hope for life.

 

It was when the friend hit rock bottom that he was willing to ask for help.  He could no longer live “inside of his head” and he began to talk about his experiences, how they made him feel and why he felt the way that he did. It was at this time, he spoke about the events of the war.  He had held this info in for 13 years for the fear of how he would be perceived by others.

 

She would constantly tell her friend that life was worth living, his value in the world and that she would fight with him until the end and he said ok.  He began to seek therapy, go to the group meetings, follow the Dr.’s instructions and seek his VA benefits.  This where it gets tricky. He is still fighting for compensation.  However, he has overcome some of his hardest battles.  He started his own business, has housing and a family that’s supporting him.  Family & Friend support is huge when dealing with a mental health complication.  No one can do it alone.  In her efforts to help him access mental health services; find job placement, and locate housing, it became painfully clear to her that many Veterans are suffering due to a lack of resources and a complicated system that is riddled with obstacles and delays. John’s Amazing Grace Foundation was established to help to lighten their burden through needs based support and advocacy services.

 

Since starting the JAGF, we have received so much support from family and friends willing to assist in anyway that they can.  This past Veteran’s Day we visited a homeless shelter in which we provided 65 Veterans with care packages.  The packages included toiletries, under garments, and hygiene products.  We also provided winter clothes.  They were so thankful and honored to meet SGT. Smith who went along to Thank them for their service.  He is 94 years old and still says he would serve his country all over again if he had to.  We also provided a Christmas Holiday party for the Veterans at this same center.  We provided clothing, food, drinks, and a live D.J.  We all danced for 3 hours straight.  The Veterans said it was one of the best experiences that they had felt in a long time.  Many thanked us (numerous of times).  Some stated how they wish their mom’s could have witnessed that day and some said the experience made them feel as if they were spending time with family for the Holidays.  We would like to bring awareness to the following items:

 

There is a stigma that homeless people look a certain way, when in fact, many look like you and I.  They did not choose to be where they are.  They like to enjoy some of the same things as we do and many may have jobs.   However, they just don’t have enough to make ends meet.  In fact some of the stories from the shelter have been due to disability checks not arriving on time, falling ill and not being able to afford the costs due to being off from work, no family/friends (support system).

 

The other stigma is that when people mention military, many believe “great benefits”.  The treatments and benefits are there, however, it can be a very long and tiresome process.  There are so many appointments that they must attend that they can’t afford to get to all of them or can not miss those many days at work.  Thus, many Veterans end up in many situations in trying to combat the disorders which ends up placing them on the streets.  In fact, according to HUD in 2018, over 50% of the homeless population were Veterans.  Many are unable to gain stable employment due to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Adjustment Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  But the diagnosis does not mean handicap.  In fact, if treated most can live a very healthy lifestyle.

 

When Natasha tells people about the foundation and the mission, there is an instant shock.  Most people are unaware that this is happening.  A most recent conversation with a former Atlanta Falcon Cheerleader’s exact words were “Why don’t I know about this?  Why don’t people tell you this is happening?”  JAGF wants to help in bringing awareness in order to eliminate conversations like this.

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