Alpha Omega Veterans Services is a Memphis-based organization that assists U.S. veterans to reintegrate into society. That process often includes recovery and rehabilitation from debilitating mental and physical conditions. The social services provided include food; shelter; clothing; referrals for training in vocational, educational and job placement goals; community service referrals; and individual and group counseling. It’s all designed to meet their physical, social and psychological needs and to promote their health, security, happiness and usefulness in society.
Alpha Omega Veterans Services began in 1987 when a Memphis mother of two sons who returned from the Vietnam War suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) couldn’t find help for her children. She started the organization as one of the first independent organizations in the U.S. that specializes in providing supportive services to military veterans. It started in a South Memphis duplex and has since grown to serve nearly 11,000 veterans, including housing and counseling services spread across six treatment facilities.
“There was no road map of how this should be done,” said Executive Director Cordell Walker, who joined Alpha Omega in 1988 when it was only the second organization in the U.S. doing this work. “We house 150 vets on an ongoing basis. We have three permanent supportive housing facilities, one transitional supportive housing facility and one hospice palliative care facility. Of those who have come through our doors, over 90 percent have totally reintegrated into society. What that means is individuals leave here with income and a safe and secure housing environment. They have reunited with families. They’re playing with their grandkids on the weekends. We’re proud of that.”
The issues and concerns veterans face today have changed since the late 1980s; Walker believes they’ve gotten worse. Thirty years ago it was PTSD, battle fatigue, shell shock and Agent Orange. On top of those concerns, today’s veterans also have been deployed multiple times. Fifteen consecutive years of war means more traumas of war. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan deal more with traumatic brain injuries (invisible wounds). They deal with depression and drug addiction. Today’s vets commit suicide at a rate of 22 a day.
“We try to provide a springboard where individuals can come here and get the tools they need to springboard back to normal living,” Walker said. “We try to catch individuals at the point before they’ve given up hope.”
Alpha Omega doesn’t charge a person to stay if they don’t have money. Everyone receives three meals a day and the services necessary to get back on their feet. Veterans typically come to Alpha Omega either through a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs referral or they simply walk in. Once they come, they are put on an individualized treatment plan that begins with counseling. Participants go through evaluations every two weeks. The process can take anywhere from a few months to multiple years. Every person is unique.
Walker said the benevolence of the Memphis community has made the organization’s job easier. Donations of any amount are always welcome, and corporate sponsorships are helpful. Nonperishable food items, paper products and toiletries are always in demand, and a wish list and opportunities to volunteer can be found at alphaomegaveterans.org.
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