This report is part of a project on post-9/11 veterans in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting is pleased to provide a series of these stories, many of which have ties to Arizona, for our readers.
About this project:
“Back Home: The Challenges Facing Post-9/11 Veterans Returning from the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

By Catey Traylor and Peter Haden, News21

On a leafy street near downtown Phoenix sits a red-brick building where the only indication of its purpose is a simple sign posted on the door — “Veterans Helping Veterans: MANA House Entrance.”

It’s through this door that some of America’s post-9/11 veterans now live, homeless and broken. They are, experts say, a foreshadowing of more homelessness to come as veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars return and try to adjust to their lives back home. The experiences of its residents, people like Keith Munion, Sandra Keeme and Andre Williams, may well become the story of many others.

Munion, a 41-year-old Army specialist, came home to Arizona from Iraq in 2005, got married, bought a house and started a business. Six years later, the house, the spouse and the business were gone.

“I was all set to come here, get a house, be stable, and just be a part of society. And it didn’t work out that way,” said Munion, one of about 20 post-9/11 veterans who live in MANA House, a shelter for homeless veterans.

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC – (click above) Although there have been slight improvements in homelessness among veterans, it continues to be a problem, with veterans making up a disproportionate share of the overall homeless population. Most homeless veterans are not homeless until a few years after they return from war.

ARIZONA DATA:

  • In 2011, 1,528 veterans were homeless in the state.
  • Veterans made up about 15 percent of Arizona’s homeless population.
  • In 2012, 1,478 veterans were homeless in the state.
  • Veterans made up about 13 percent of Arizona’s homeless population.

Keeme, who went to Iraq twice — once in 2003 and once in 2007 — served first as a deck seaman in the Navy and then as a medic in the Marines. She went to war healthy, stable and engaged.

She returned home with a back injury from a field exercise, unstable and single. Turning to alcohol as therapy, Keeme was charged with driving under the influence in April, followed by a speeding ticket in May.

“I had never been in trouble before, so I didn’t know how to process being in trouble,” she said, fighting back tears. “It really hit my self-esteem, my image. It really crumbled who I was.”

She consumed a bottle of sleeping pills and woke up in the intensive care unit of Chandler Regional Hospital, where she stayed for nearly two weeks. After being transferred to the Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs’ Health Care System, she checked into MANA House’s female veterans wing, where she is one of 10 women and where she has lived for about a month.

The Institute of Medicine report suggests that younger veterans, including those who deployed to OEF and OIF, are at a higher risk for homelessness.

Read the full story here.