Gaining veterans access to housing assistance and mental health care

HUNTSVILLE, Ala - A fatal shooting by Huntsville police officers is scheduled to be reviewed. WHNT News 19 has been told an incident review board will convene this week to review the shooting death of Crystal Ragland. Family members have said Ragland was an Iraq war veteran who suffered from PTSD and other mental disorders.

Wednesday, the new director of the Birmingham VA Medical Center visited the clinic in Huntsville. Stacy Vasquez has a special interest in helping homeless veterans and those suffering from mental illness.

Vasquez started the town hall meeting by introducing herself. She is a 5th generation veteran.

"I think it's important for me to tell people that as an adolescent I grew up homeless and my dad was 100% service connected for schizophrenia," she stated to a room packed with veterans.

Before the meeting, WHNT News 19 had the opportunity to speak with her. She explained that the homeless program through Veteran Affairs is extensive.

"Within the homeless program, there are 26 programs that help serve veterans," she said.

There are social workers dedicated to just helping homeless or at risk veterans at the Huntsville clinic.

"So they would be able to meet with them the same day when they came in," she said.

There is no appointment necessary for that service. They also have rapid re-housing opportunities

"Where if a veteran doesn't have a place to sleep tonight, we have contracted beds to be able to help them," she said.

The VA partners with the community to find beds, which could be located at a hotel or a shelter.

There are more than 300 homeless veterans in Alabama according to the most recent statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those numbers are from 2018. That number is down quite a bit from the 542 homeless veterans in Alabama in 2014.

While those numbers are going down, the number of veterans suffering from certain mental illnesses might be higher than you think, especially when it comes to PTSD.

"11 to 20 percent is our best estimate at this time," said Dr. Ladi Kukoyi, a psychiatrist for the Birmingham VA.

According to Dr. Kukoyi, women can be more susceptible to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"If the same event happens to a woman and a man a woman is more likely to develop PTSD for reasons we don't know," he said.

But when it comes to military members more men are diagnosed with PTSD, Dr. Kukoyi points out more men serve in the armed forces.

Dr. Kukoyi says PTSD can make a person want to isolate.

"If your circle of trust is narrowed to just you learning to embraced and open it up can be a challenge," he said.

Which can make it difficult to treat.

There are several resources available for people with PTSD.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.