Giving Back: Recovery Housing for Veterans

By Dirk Hanson 06/09/11

Chicago addict renovates homes for addicted vets with help from Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Hard road for homeless vets.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

Jeff Gilbert of Batavia, Illinois, can’t claim to know what it’s like to serve in the military—but he does know something about alcoholism and other drug addictions.  While researching for his doctorate in psychology, he made it his business to learn about the plight of addicted veterans. What he learned motivated him to create U.S. VETCare, which the Chicago Tribune described as “a program specifically designed to help addicted veterans in recovery-home settings.” Gilbert and his wife are the cofounders of Hope for Tomorrow,  a nonprofit resident treatment program for addiction, which Gilbert founded in 1999 as part of his battle with his own addictions.

Gilbert is renovating two of the existing Hope For Tomorrow recovery houses with funding from the city of Aurora and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Join Together reports  that veterans must undergo “an extensive evaluation in order to be accepted in VETCare. Once accepted, they must work and do daily chores and attend five counseling meetings a week. They are subject to drug and alcohol testing.” VETCare is currently treating 24 veterans, with an average stay of 187 days. “We ask to come here. We’re not sentenced to come here,” one ex-Marine told the Tribune. “We can leave anytime we want to.”

Janet Swanson, captain of the local Neighborhood Watch organization where one of the homes is located, said that there had “never been a problem. They are always polite… They have the right to be part of our neighborhood as much as anybody else.” This kind of open-mindedness is not always found at local hearings and on local zoning boards. But in Gilbert’s case, objections from Chicago neighbors weren’t really his concern. Money for home remodeling is his immediate concern. Motorcycles rallies, golf outings, and pig roasts are in the works.  “We want to complete this project and not accumulate debt,” he said. “We want to do whatever we can to help troops get back on their feet and get back into the game of life.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]