How An Iraq War Veteran Is Fighting Veteran Homelessness

America has been at war for almost two decades now. The wars have produced hundreds of thousands of combat veterans. But for many veterans, the war does not end when their service does.

Even if there are no physical wounds, many of our veterans have invisible scars. They come home suffering from PTSD and other disorders that make their transition back into civilian life all the more difficult.

According to a study conducted by the Veterans Administration in 2016, 20 veterans commit suicide every day. They also found that veterans were 21% more likely to commit suicide than civilians. Additionally, many veterans sometimes have problems finding working adding to their challenges adjusting back into civilian life. For proof, consider the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans in 2016 was 5.1%. For comparison, the unemployment rate for civilians in 2016 was 4.7%. In November 2015, Opportunity Lives profiled a veteran-owned trucking company that was working to get vets back to work.

According to a study conducted by the Veterans Administration in 2016, 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

As a result of the difficulty of finding permanent work, many of our nation’s returning vets wind up homeless. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 11% of our nation’s homeless population are veterans. Post 9/11 veterans are again disproportionately more likely to be homeless than the population at large. The NHCV found that 9% of the veteran homeless were ages 18-30. Only 5% of the veteran population at large is aged 18-30. 45% of all homeless veterans are African-American or Hispanic, compared to both groups only making less than 15% of the total veteran population, combined.

This sobering reality is what led one man in central Illinois to tackle the problem of homeless veterans. Chris Schaller is a U.S. Army veteran who deployed to Iraq in 2003-04 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to his military service, Chris is also a successful mortgage banker who has opened his own mortgage banking company. That success has led him to host his own weekly radio show called “The Illinois Mortgage Man.”

This sobering reality is what led one man in central Illinois to tackle the problem of homeless veterans.

This year, he founded an organization called Operation Fight Veteran Homelessness. “Until recently my military brothers and sisters have not gotten the full assistance they so rightly deserve, and I couldn’t stand by idly as I watched the men and women of our military go homeless.” Schaller told Opportunity Lives. “I decided that it was time to take a stand and assemble those who shared my vision of helping our veterans.”

The group has been raising money through a GoFundMe page and they have been holding fundraising events. Their big event was a benefit concert in Springfield, Illinois to raise money. They encouraged local companies to donate prizes and to sponsor the event.

So far, the organization says that it has gotten several veterans off the streets already. “Since the beginning of 2017 our group has gotten twelve homeless veterans off the streets and our immediate goal is to help another forty-five in the next 120 days.” said Schaller.

Although the group does not have an IRS tax designation yet, they claim to already have the strictest accounting practices in place. “We have already instituted strict financial controls, working with an outside accounting firm and planning for yearly financial audits. We believe in transparency and will make our financial statements and audits easy to access and review as we ramp up our organization.” said Schaller. Most importantly, Schaller says his group will not take on any expansion of their mission.

Operation Fight Veterans Homelessness may not be expanding their mission, but Chris Schaller already is taking on the mission of combatting veteran suicides. Starting in April, he will be a launching suicide prevention call center in Springfield. It will be staffed 24 hours a day by fellow Iraq and Afghanistan vets. “We are going to do this at no cost to the taxpayer. This is veterans taking care of veterans,” said Schaller.

He hopes that others across the country will work to help vets. “Our veterans deserve to know we will not give up on, nor forget their sacrifices.”

Kevin Boyd is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @thekevinboyd.