From Senior Producer Luke Heikkila who’s back from the field after interviewing a Veteran named Chris as part of our work on the documentary we’re producing with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (in case you missed it, here’s the link to the first post Luke shared with us: “Doran, a Veteran Coming Home”)…
“Chris is an Iraq Veteran. He was in the 82nd Airborne. He grew up outside of St. Peter, Minnesota. He has a great laugh.
After Chris left the military, he floated around working some seasonal construction jobs. He has a house; it’s an old farmhouse on a patch of land just outside the Mankato city limits. The farmhouse was built in 1875.
The brick exterior walls are cracked. ‘On the other side of that wall,’ Chris says pointing to the facade, ‘is more brick, in between the two brick walls is three inches of air, that’s my insulation, air.’
Last winter was particularly brutal in Minnesota. The cost of propane rose as the temperature dropped. By midwinter, Chris’s propane tank was empty. Filling it would be difficult since he was already behind with the gas company.
The story, as Chris tells it, wasn’t too cheery, though he is now able to laugh it off. ‘Oh, I’ve got this giant thing called pride that I just can’t swallow.’ During my time interviewing him, I found out he could have asked his family for help, ‘they’re great, they would have helped me out.’
Chris never needed to make this ask because he found a man named Luke. Luke works for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MAC-V) as an Outreach Case Manager and handles outreach for 40 counties in southern Minnesota. He works to ensure that Veterans in the area know that services are available.
‘We reach a lot of people through planned hunting trips,’ Luke says as he thinks back on when he met Chris. ‘I told Chris we could apply for some grants and we could help him out.’
Applications were filled out and help was received. ‘It wasn’t a lot of money,’ said Luke, ‘maybe a couple of grand.’ Chris recalls that MAC-V helped pay the gas company for what he owed and then paid to get it filled up again. ‘Right now, propane is about a buck and change per gallon. In the winter, it was over four bucks a gallon, and with a 400 gallon tank that’s an expense I wasn’t able to plan for.’
MAC-V helped Chris when he needed it most. Chris doesn’t think he would have ended up homeless as a result of not being able to make payments. He knows his family would have pitched in. Homelessness among Veterans in rural Minnesota, however, is a problem.
Luke told the story of an Iraq/Afghan era Vet in the area who was living in his car, ‘everything he had was in there, the sun roof was smashed in, there was dampness and mold everywhere; it wasn’t a pretty sight.” Luke was able to help find stable housing for this Veteran: he is now living with 10 other Veterans in a housing complex to provide long-term housing for disabled Veterans. He is warm, safe, and dry.
For the Veterans of Minnesota, organizations like MAC-V are able to step in and provide a safety net during their greatest hour of need. But first, they need to swallow their pride, reach out, make contact, and make the ask.”
For more information about this upcoming program we’re working on with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), keep an eye on us here and on our social platforms for all the latest information (TPT’s MN Productions & Partnerships on Facebook | @tptMN on Twitter). We will announce a premiere broadcast as soon as it is available.
This program is part of Veterans Coming Home, a public media effort to support veterans made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Learn more about tpt programming and local resources for Veterans at veterans.tpt.org.