Homeless in the Land of Plenty: Veterans Part II

A conversation with Douglas Sandberg, WJFF’s host of “Let’s Talk Vets”

By TED WADDELL
Posted 8/4/20

JEFFERSONVILLE, NY — “Now it’s worse than ever. You see pieces about homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angles,” said Doug Sandberg of the homeless situation in America, …

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Homeless in the Land of Plenty: Veterans Part II

A conversation with Douglas Sandberg, WJFF’s host of “Let’s Talk Vets”

Posted

JEFFERSONVILLE, NY — “Now it’s worse than ever. You see pieces about homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angles,” said Doug Sandberg of the homeless situation in America, “the Land of Plenty.”

Sandberg, a veteran of the United States Air Force (USAF), serves as producer and show host of “Let’s Talk Vets,” a popular radio broadcast “produced by vets for vets” that airs on WJFF Radio Catskill 90.5 FM the second Wednesday of the month from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., or 19:00 to 20:00 for those folks who keep track of things on 24-hour military time. 

“The homeless drivers are many,” he explained. He noted that, along with the lack of housing in any form, other factors that contribute to the problem are issues directly attributed to military service such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—known in years past as shell-shock in WWI or combat fatigue in WWII that manifested itself as “the thousand-yard stare”—legal problems, mental/physical disabilities and the issue of drug and alcohol abuse.

On the topic of addictive drug use, Sandberg said, “The Veterans Administration is now addressing problems with opiates… At one time, they were handing out opiates for pain like candy.”

But on the flip side, he said that with the VA being more restrictive in prescribing controlled medications, people looking for opiates, “Go doc-shopping, or get heroin which is actually cheaper on the streets. It’s a downward spiral.”

Sandberg noted what he called “the divide” between the military and civilian cultures as another factor that contributes to homeless vets trying to reintegrate into “normal” society after serving for years or in the wake of combat.

“The longer you’re in the military, the greater the differences,” he said. “Folks downtown want your money, but they don’t want you to marry their daughter.

“Having a safe place to hang your hat is key,” said Sandberg. “The first thing you need to do is find a safe place to hang your hat, a safe place to sleep and not be afraid of getting robbed if you have anything… Having clean sheets and three square [meals] a day.”

And then there are homeless veterans who don’t want anything to do with society at large. In Sandberg’s words, “These are the guys who will move into a shack and say ‘Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.’”

The host of “Let’s Talk Vets” served a four-year hitch in the USAF with the Strategic Air Command (SAC), stationed in Minot, ND from 1968-72.

“For the most part, veterans are reluctant to ask for anything,” said Sandberg, explaining that in the 20-some months he’s hosted the local program, he has yet to interview a vet who identifies as homeless.

“It’s hard for a vet to tell someone something of a deeply personal nature. You ask them to bare their souls... There are so many dynamics.

“The subject of homelessness is very complex when you drill down into the circumstances of each individual,” said Sandberg. “Veterans have added complications. Vets are very proud people who don’t always ask for help.”

For more information about “Let’s Talk Vets,” contact Douglas Sandberg at vets@wjffradio.org.

For Part I: Homeless in the Land of Plenty, an interview with John Crotty, which was originally published May 20, visit https://bit.ly/RRlandofplenty1.

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