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Troubled vets deserve acknowledgement, too

Bobby Kohlstrunk wants to right a wrong, to set something straight.

Although he is in the drug and alcohol recovery program at the Hope Center, working on his addiction to alcohol, it's not that. And it's not his failed marriage.

The record Kohlstrunk wants to correct is the way his service to his country came to such an abrupt end. In lieu of a court-martial, he said, he was discharged under other than honorable conditions.

"I was running wild," he said, "and alcohol abuse and drugs were involved. I was at the top of my class in basic training. I did really well in advanced individual training."

But then he was turned loose in the barracks after basic, where there were other young men like himself, willing to "work hard and play hard."

Leaving the Army after about 11/2 years just doesn't sit well with him.

"One of my goals and one of my prayers through this process of bettering my life is that I can put myself in a position where I have another opportunity to serve in the United States military," Kohlstrunk said.

He is just one of 36 veterans of the 294 men staying at the Hope Center's recovery program and emergency shelter, a proportion that is smaller than the national average.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, of the adult homeless population in the United States, about a third have served their country in the Armed Services. The VA estimates about 154,000 male and female veterans are homeless on any given night. Poverty and living conditions put many others at risk.

Some are fighting the lingering mental and emotional effects of post-traumatic stress, some are battling substance abuse problems and some have to war against both.

Kim Livisay, the center's director of community relations, said the new George Privette Recovery Center for Men, a 96-bed facility that opened this year, was built to expand services to homeless men dealing with addictions.

Kohlstrunk has lived there for 31/2 months this time, his second go-round in the six-month program. This time he plans to stick with it because he entered the program voluntarily, and sticking with it could be the leverage he wants to once again wear a military uniform.

What about the men and women who at least attempted to keep democracy intact but failed due to a flaw in their humanity? Should we give them at least a tip of our hats today?

Everett Martin, 55, another participant in the program, joined the Army Reserves in 1977 before allowing his addictions to over take better judgment.

He was using heroin the entire time, and was discharged because he missed too many meetings. His father had been a career serviceman.

Martin served three years in prison for stealing to support his habit, before being paroled. He married, moved to Louisville, but he soon gave into his addictions and was returned to prison.

"I've been using drugs since I was 13," he said, starting when he began sniffing the glue he used to make model cars.

Despite bouts of sobriety, he would succumb to a need to reward himself for his good behavior and fall quickly back into his addictions.

Still, he looks back fondly on his stay in the military.

"The Army did something for me, and I was pretty good at it, too," Martin said. "I can do pretty much anything I want to."

And what he wants now is to stay clean and use his skills to perform the work God has assigned him.

"Because of God I'm here today," Martin said. "I think he has something for me to do, but I can't do it if I'm on drugs and alcohol.

"I am here, working this program so it will be revealed what God wants me to do," he said.

It is and will be a struggle, Kohlstrunk said because, "No matter where I go or what I do, I take myself with me."

Some men and women go into service with problems and bring them back out. Others leave with considerably more issues than when they entered.

Either way, they are human beings who served their country — or tried to — despite their limitations.

They deserve acknowledgement on this Veterans Day as well.

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