LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “Not everybody has a great homecoming.”
When people think about our veterans coming home from combat, the mental image is often of waving American flags, fanfare, and reunions filled with happy tears. This is not always the case when it comes to our men and women in uniform.
“Not everybody got a parade. It wasn’t always a World War II welcome home,” said Christopher Smrt.
Smrt, who served for 30 years, was part of a group of veterans we interviewed to better understand the needs of our local heroes when they get back on American soil. They bravely opened up about the hardest parts of their journeys coming home. Several of the veterans we spoke to said the initial transition from combat to civilian life was a struggle they weren’t prepared for.
“The transition home is not sweet, it’s not fun,” said Sam Deeds. Deeds medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2011 after serving for 14 years.
One of the biggest struggles they face is figuring out what’s next.
“It’s really hard when you were once one person and now you’re really somebody completely different,” said Megan Karr. Karr was honored as Female Veteran of the Year in 2018. Now, she is homeless, all of her personal possessions contained in a storage locker.
“It’s something that I miss. To be able to have a picture of my kids when I wake up in the morning,” she said.
Karr was lucky to find a friend in Jeremy Harrell. Harrell is an Army Combat veteran and, when he came home, he realized that something needed to change for other veterans in the community. He founded Veterans Club Kentucky in 2017 as a way for local veterans to connect with each other.
Places like the Veterans Club are vital for veterans seeking community, especially in those first few days home.
"When I came home I was ecstatic to be home, but I felt out of place," said Scott Rudd. Rudd enlisted with the National Guard in 2004 and is still active.
"The only time I felt comfortable was when I was with other veterans," he said.
The Veterans Club offers programs including equine therapy, family outreach, and recovery.
One of Harrell’s recent initiatives is to build a community of tiny homes for homeless veterans. Megan Karr is one of the veterans who will move into that new community once it’s built.
“It’s mind-blowing. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to think, ‘Wow, I have something to really look forward to,’” she said.
To learn more about Veterans Club Kentucky, you can visit their website: veteransclubky.com.
MORE IN OUR "COMING HOME" SERIES: