Editor’s note: This is one of several stories of local veterans who have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction and gotten help through the Dayton VA. You can read more about all the ways the VA is working prevent and treat addiction in the Miami Valley here: What is the Dayton VA doing to combat the opioid crisis?
DAYTON — As the community employment coordinator for the Dayton VA, Michael England helps formerly homeless veterans connect with jobs and resources in the greater Dayton community.
To see him sitting in his office in a suit and tie, surrounded by professional awards and photos of his wife and daughter, you would never guess that he used to be one of them — addicted, depressed and living on the streets.
England, an Army veteran who performed logistics in support of Operation Desert Storm and other missions in the late ’80s and early ’90s, credits the Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center with helping him overcome alcohol addiction, anxiety and depression.
“All those dreams you hear about … they’ve come true for me,” England said.
A decade ago, he said he didn’t believe he was eligible for veterans benefits because he’d never been deployed in combat.
“I was from a rural area — Findlay, Ohio,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the VA system.”
After the Army he’d held down a steady job for 13 years. But as his mental health deteriorated, he went from couch surfing with friends to living in his car to being on the street.
“And I was a person who worked my whole life,” England said. “It’s just the alcohol, anxiety, depression took its toll on me where I couldn’t cope.”
He became suicidal, and that’s when friends and family reached out to a local hospital for help, then the Dayton VA, where he transferred for a 28-day rehab program. He ended up staying at the VA for a total of eight months, including rehab and enrollment in the employment program for homeless veterans that he now helps run.
England, 50, said it helped him to have other veterans in his support groups because they could all relate to each other. But they also sought out 12-step meetings outside the campus because they knew it was important to test their sobriety in the real world. The VA campus is completely dry.
“I was lucky enough to have three or four other veterans really supporting each other,” he said.