Gerald Mitchell - An example of resilience
By Allison Pugh, Veteran Case Manager
I was first introduced to Gerald Mitchell in October of 2015. Mr. Mitchell arrived at Brandon Hall after spending days at the local shelter. One of the very first things I remember upon our meeting was how grateful he was to be with Volunteers of America of Indiana and how much humility he carried in his soul from years of struggles and strife. It was as if I could feel the weight that burdened him for so many years being slowly lifted as he had finally found a safe place to rest his body, restore his spirit and rebuild his life. Mr. Mitchell is considered a chronically homeless veteran, which in turn has created numerous barriers to maintaining a healthy and stable lifestyle.
Gerald proudly served as a Sergeant in the United States Army where he received numerous awards including the Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NCO Professional Development Ribbon and Aircraft Crewman Badge. In the years following his service, Mr. Mitchell began encountering what he says as "obstacle after obstacle" which eventually led him to the streets, and unfortunately incarceration. For the past several years, he has battled with drug and alcohol addiction as a way to cope with homelessness and has only experienced fleeting moments of hope that he describes as very scarce.
When we began case management services and addiction treatment with Veteran Mitchell at Brandon Hall, I noticed that a light in his eyes began to shimmer and a smile that he hadn't been worn in years. He became a constant source of joy for everyone around him. I would love to say that he has not encountered a major setback while in our program, but unfortunately this is not the case. Two months ago, Mr. Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer. At that time, he had a choice to fight or flight and I am so proud to say that he is fighting every day for his life and sobriety. What once would have been an instant trigger for a man who once slept under bridges and didn't know when or how he would eat next has become a constant source of inspiration for everyone around him. While Gerald does not have family close to walk with him through this struggle, he has leaned on the staff at VOA and his fellow Veterans to remain optimistic and hopeful in this time of uncertainty.
Today, Mr. Mitchell is celebrating a substantial amount of continuous sobriety as he attends 12 step meetings and is a recent graduate of the outpatient drug and alcohol treatment program through the Veteran Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). He is also employed through the work therapy program at the VA, which at one time in his life seemed like an improbable possibility as he lacked hope, dignity and a sense of purpose or meaning. Mr. Mitchell is growing in his faith through weekly devotionals held at Brandon Hall and is eager to share his experience with others who are struggling as his story has now become his gift.
Gerald is more than a bright spot in our program. He spends his free time mentoring others and giving back what was once so freely given to him. There is not a day of the week that his laughter, smile or encouraging words don't positively impact those around him. He has overcome extreme barriers with such grace and resilience. Where he once lacked hope and dignity, he now embodies courage and compassion as his transformation is a testimony for others. Mr. Mitchell understands that each day is a gift and treats it as such. We are more than proud of all of his accomplishments and his ability to remain humble and hopeful in times of obscurity. Veteran Mitchell is a true assertion of resilience.
"He's very caring and helping to all Veterans. That's my boy. I love that guy. He's a man to be looked up to."
A fellow Veteran had the following to say in regards to him: "Mitch had a long history of drug abuse. On the start of the road of recovery, he has been diligent in all phases of his recovery. When he goes to meetings, he always sits in the front and shares his story with others. Even though he has medical issues, he doesn't let them cause him to withdraw or go into a relapse mode. He has gained employment and has begun to build his future. He's very caring and helping to all Veterans. That's my boy. I love that guy. He's a man to be looked up to."