40 Stories

Sarah Oldridge

U.S. Air Force, 2003-2009
“I turned to Swords to Plowshares to ask for the one thing that most veterans are afraid to ask for—help.”

Replicating the path of her siblings, Sarah joined the military at age 18 shortly after the sudden death of her father. Before she deployed to Iraq, her brother assured her that the base in Balad would be safe, but her first night in Iraq was met with ongoing mortar attacks. In 2009, she enlisted in the Reserves as a paralegal, a job she thought would protect her from redeployment and keep her close to her husband. However she was soon activated for another six months, delaying college and making her transition out of active duty more challenging. She found it difficult to prove her value to civilians without a degree or the experience they required. Frustrated and financially strained, Sarah came to Swords to Plowshares. Within months, her counselor found her a great opportunity at Allied Barton as a human resources coordinator. In her role at Allied Barton, she continued to work closely with our staff so that she could give back to other veterans struggling to find meaningful job opportunities. Sarah later went on to complete her bachelor’s degree and prepared for law school.

Dennis Johnson

U.S. Army, 1989-1992
“Getting kicked out of the military was always something that I was truly ashamed of. It was hard for me to have to revisit those emotions of shame…but I did and I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I have a job today working with veterans like myself at Swords to Plowshares. My life has been never more exciting than it is today.”

Dennis Johnson is a U.S. Army veteran who received an early separation and honorable discharge after the Persian Gulf War I ended in 1991. He turned to drugs and alcohol, devolving to both an addict and alcoholic for many years before he hit bottom and decided to get sober. As a veteran who was separated early, Dennis doubted that he was entitled to any benefits or services through the VA or any service organization. When Dennis learned of Swords to Plowshares and made an appointment with our Employment & Training staff, he hoped to find a job in which he could help other veterans overcome the challenges of addiction, poverty and homelessness. His job counselor immediately recognized his passion and motivation, and referred him to a part-time Program Monitor position at one of our housing facilities. He was interviewed and hired immediately. Dennis impressed the residential operations management team so much that he was asked to take on a full-time position as Intake Clerk for our Frontline Drop- in Center.

Del Seymour

U.S. Army, 1968-1970
“Thanks to the innovative and one-of-a-kind housing programs that Swords to Plowshares has been involved in this year, I can actually see an end to veteran homelessness in this city coming very soon. No other group of homeless folks in this city has received as much care and concern as veterans, and very soon the effort will need to shift to keeping these veterans housed.”

After serving as a medic during the Vietnam War, Del moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he continued to work as a paramedic. When he later moved to San Francisco, life took a turn for the worse into a spiral of homelessness and addiction until he received assistance from Swords to Plowshares. Now clean and sober for eight years, Del has since founded the Tenderloin Walking Tours, providing historical stories and insight into an often overlooked neighborhood. He also serves on the Local Homeless Coordinating Board and Swords to Plowshares’ Board of Directors.

Laymer Pamintuan

U.S. Army, 2010-2014; U.S. Army Reserves, 2014-present
“With the help of Swords to Plowshares, I have been able to transition to civilian life much more smoothly than expected. The constant support of the organization led me to the comfortable position I am in now.”

After joining the U.S. Army in 2010, Laymer was deployed to the Kunar Province in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013. He was honorably discharged the following year and received multiple awards for his service. Laymer sought out the services of our Employment & Training Department while looking for work. The employment counselor working with him at Swords recognized his strong organizational and leadership skills, and his passion for helping fellow veterans. Laymer was brought onboard as our Office Manager, and is also a full-time student working on his bachelor’s degree in Technical Management in Small Business and Entrepreneurship. A resident of Daly City, he continues to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves.

David Fish

U.S. Army 1984-1991
“A lot of soldiers don’t become veterans until they’ve failed at being civilians, even though they’ve been vets all along. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t spend your life trying to forget the unforgettable. Without Swords’ attorney Katie Dwight, I’m not sure that I would be standing here. She assisted me through the arduous process of VA claims and compensation and pension—an area that no veteran can hope to navigate without legal support. After three years I was able to establish financial security again for my sons and myself.”

David served in the U.S. Army as a medic and paratrooper, including a deployment to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. When he returned to his native California, he found himself battling PTSD and major depression. Though he married, bought a home, and went to work as a licensed nurse, his symptoms worsened and remained untreated. Seventeen years after his discharge, he lost everything and became homelessness. He felt disillusioned, disoriented and empty. When David finally came to Swords to Plowshares for help, divorced and penniless, our legal team made sure that David received the treatment he needed from the VA as well as the benefits owed for his service as a combat veteran. David says, “seeking help from the VA had sparked a creative fire within me, but suddenly found I had a desire to create meaningful art.” He now finds healing through art and works with a number of artistic veteran groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has been performed in solo projects and modern dance projects, some of which were made possible by grants obtained by Swords. David now lives in the Sunset district of San Francisco with two children, Simon and Dylan, aged 20 and 18.

Dottie Guy

U.S. Army, 2000-2007
“Not only does Swords to Plowshares provide help for our veterans in need, it also provides a community of people who understand what it means to serve.”

Dottie joined the Army National Guard after high school in 2000 as a means of building community and new opportunities after relocating away from her hometown. Following the 9/11 attacks, she was activated just hours after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, and eventually she deployed to Iraq in 2003. Years later, Dottie was referred to Swords to Plowshares by a peer who encouraged her to seek help with her disability claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her attorney worked with her to access the VA benefits she earned and address her service-connected injuries. Dottie landed a job as the Outreach Coordinator for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans at the Oakland Vet Center, and she serves on the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission.

Ryan Schmidt

U.S. Marine Corps, 2003-2008
“In the Marine Corps, you never have to watch your back because you know that your brother has it covered. The men and women at Swords to Plowshares believe in you and pledge that they will have your back. I’m not sure where I would be with them.”

Ryan Schmidt served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a rifleman from 2003 to 2008. While deployed to Iraq, he was awarded a Purple Heart, Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and a handful of other decorations. He came home in 2008 to find the country in a recession. Jobs were so scarce in Northern California that Ryan ended up taking a job on an oil rig in Kansas for 18 months. By the time he saved enough money to return to the Bay Area, he managed to survive all of three months in San Francisco before being forced to move out to San Leandro. If it wasn’t for our Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (SSVF), which provided him with eviction prevention assistance when he got behind in his rent, Ryan and his family could have ended up at homeless. Eventually he landed a job at the San Francisco VA Hospital as an engineer thanks to our Employment and Training Program. Ryan lives in San Leandro with his wife, Marilyn, and their two children.

Diane Williamson

U.S. Army, 1976-1979
“A lot of people don’t get a chance to stop and re-evaluate their lives. I got that chance to hit bottom, get up, ask how I got there, and what I could do to help myself. Swords to Plowshares gave me that opportunity. I know that I’m not the same person I was that first day I heard about Swords. I’ve learned so much since then.”

While serving in the Army, Diane Williamson was sexually assaulted by her commanding officer and soon after began suffering from symptoms of PTSD brought on by military sexual trauma (MST). Despite the violence she survived, she continued serving until she became pregnant, forcing her to make the difficult decision to end her military career early. Using the GI Bill to earn an associate’s degree in graphic design, Diane worked for the Navy in Oakland until the facility closed in 1997. However in the years following, she experienced ongoing symptoms of PTSD, depression, gaps in employment, and eventually lost her apartment. Diane was living at a shelter when a resident told her about Swords to Plowshares. After moving to our Housing Program on Treasure Island, she was able to work through her PTSD by volunteering and undergoing mental health treatment and subsequently moving into the Veterans Academy, where she made her home for 11 years while pursuing her education and reconnecting with family. In 2011, Diane settled into her own apartment with her daughter in East Bay.

John Page

U.S. Air Force, 1970-1975
“Swords to Plowshares helped me out so much. I tell every veteran I know to give them a call. I’ve got the number memorized. 415-252-4788.”

Having developed hypertension while serving during the Vietnam War, John struggled to settle into civilian life after the war with his wife and baby boy in California. A former commander tried to get John a position in air traffic control where he could apply the skills he learned while serving in the Air Force, but health issues kept him from getting the job. Devastated, John began self-medicating to the point that his drug use tore apart his family and led to bouts of homelessness. Eventually he suffered a stroke that resulted in partial paralysis, loss of motor skills, blindness, and permanent damage to his short-term memory and ability to comprehend speech. In 2002, friends encouraged him to go to Swords to Plowshares for help. He worked with one of our staff attorneys who secured him the service-connected disability benefits he earned and needed to survive. Once he was stable, John reunited with his family and now dedicates his spare time to working with troubled youth.

Caudrey Parker

U.S. Navy, 1989-2010
“Swords to Plowshares had something behind its billboard.”

In 2010, after returning home from a difficult deployment to Afghanistan, Caudrey had a tough time finding employment. Despite her skills and experience, she struggled to find a job and relied on friends for shelter. She eventually reached out to Swords to Plowshares, which laid the groundwork for her to enter a training program that earned her a Building Performance Analyst Certificate. Swords also assisted Caudrey with her job search, eventually leading to a position as a shift supervisor in Cupertino, CA.

Star Lara

U.S. Army, 1995-2007
“I believed that the transition to my career after earning my degree would be seamless. I expected employers to be knocking down my door offering me the highly sought after management positions. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that veterans have to work even harder to translate their soft skills and transferable skills before I could sell myself and my resume. Thanks to Swords, I landed a very rewarding position that has allowed me to utilize all the skills I learned during my twelve years in the Army.”

During her service, Star she achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant and was assigned to multiple duty stations as well as deployments that included Bosnia during Operation Joint Forge and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was awarded the Combat Action Badge and two Meritorious Service Medals for her service. After her discharge, she also earned a BA in Business Management but still she struggled to find a job. Star reached out to the Employment and Training Department at Swords to Plowshares. She was hired as our Women Veterans Program Manager, and went on to be named the 2014 California Women Veteran Leader of Year by the California Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as Veteran of the Year by the California State Senate.

Tony Bonini

U.S. Marine Corps, 1994-1998; U.S. Army Reserves, 1998-2004
“I never thought I was going to make it…”

After 10 years of service split between the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army Reserves, Tony was dismissed after failing a drug test. His drug habit soon worsened and he lost his marriage, his apartment and eventually all contact with his family. He lived out of his car and survived on petty theft. When he heard about Swords to Plowshares from a fellow veteran, Tony managed to stay sober for a week and then entered our Housing Program. He attended classes and began to make better decisions. Once stable and sober, Tony reconnected with his two daughters—something he considers his greatest accomplishment.

Marco Concepcion

U.S. Marine Corps, 2006-2010
“Before my deployment to Iraq, I felt like your average proud Marine, but when I got back I was a different person. I ignored what was really going on with me and turned to drugs and alcohol. Once I faced the truth, I decided to get help. I felt great knowing that I finally found something I am good at—being a hardworking tradesman. I’m confident now.”

Alan Nudo

U.S. Marine Corps, 2008-2012
“Between my first and second deployment, I didn’t know what to do. I drank heavily to cope, and for months was not motivated even to look for work. I eventually enrolled in a for-profit school and quickly started racking up serious student loan debt. My best friend, Marco [Concepcion], signed me up for a training course at Swords to Plowshares to become an apprentice carpenter. At first I was skeptical, but now I feel lucky that my new job will give me stability, great income and the training I need for the future.”

Marco and Alan, both young veterans who served together in Iraq, sought help at Swords to Plowshares despite their reservations to reach out for assistance. The two friends, who supported each other through difficult times in Iraq, reunited after military service to support each other through the difficulties they were facing in the civilian world. Their career counselor at Swords helped them enroll in a competitive carpentry apprenticeship program. Both Alan and Marco successfully completed pre-apprenticeship training and developed their skills on the job working with master carpenters.

Kelly Chenot

U.S. Army, 1996-1998
“Swords to Plowshares’ permanent housing for me and my son made a world of difference for his and my healing. We can move on to deal with more in our lives… It’s all about living now, not just surviving.”

Kelly faced the “scariest time” of her life in 2006 when, expecting a child while on the road to recovery, she found herself without housing and in need of service. Swords to Plowshares not only provided stable permanent housing for Kelly and her son, but also helped create family experiences and memories with veteran access to events and attractions that otherwise would not have been available to them.

Dustin Mooney

U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, 2008-2014
“I finished my bachelor’s degree in winter 2014 and began my search for a career where I could achieve the necessary social work experience needed to apply for a Master of Social Work program. I sought out the help of the employment services at Swords to Plowshares. I immediately became inspired with the non-profit itself. Their selfless dedication to helping military veterans and their families fell right in line with the values I held. With the help of my employment specialist, I was able to not only start a career where I could gain social work experience, but it was also with the same organization that was helping me do so, Swords to Plowshares. They were essential in preparing me for this opportunity and I am extremely thankful.”

Dustin served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for six years, during which he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was always his goal to attend and graduate from college after his service. Dustin utilized the GI Bill, and through hard work and determination was able to attend UC Berkeley, where he studied Psychology and Social Welfare. During his studies, Dustin discovered a passion for serving those less fortunate than himself. Keeping in tune with his love for the military, he decided to become a social worker helping military veterans. Swords to Plowshares hired him to work in our Supportive Services for Veteran Families program in Oakland, helping veterans and their families find stable housing.

Josh Aguilar

U.S. Army, 2000-2011
“Adjusting to who I was and who I am now is the hardest part of looking back to when I decided to join the military.”

Josh Aguilar joined the U.S. Army in 2000 and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327 Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, where he served three deployments to Iraq over the course of 11 years. The missions were rigorous, as Josh’s unit engaged in day-to-day combat and many lives were lost. Throughout the years the effects of war became an unstoppable force, both during and after. During his tours, Josh witnessed and suffered tremendous loss, and more than ever, felt the weight of his experiences. After being medically retired due to combat-related injuries, Josh moved to California to begin a new life as a civilian. Luckily, he had close ties to fellow veterans who worked at Swords to Plowshares, and they were able to help him link with one of our staff attorneys who helped him secure his VA disability compensation and pension, as well as to enroll in school and find employment. His PTSD continues to be a struggle, but Josh remains connected to the veteran community which helps him continue to improve his health, stability and employment opportunities.

Randall Flagg

U.S. Army, 1983-1986
“I had nowhere to go. Swords to Plowshares gave me a key to my own room and I never looked back. They helped me to the point that in nine months I got a job, transitioned out of their Housing Program on my own in order to do everything I needed for me and my family. That was nineteen years ago. I’m gratefully indebted to Swords, because that’s where everything changed. That’s straight from me, from the heart. Now I work at Swords and we’re going to do great things.”

In 1995, Randall Flagg turned to Swords to Plowshares for help. He was emaciated, weak and in need of medical assistance—a veteran in just about the worst shape that our staff had ever seen during an intake. Fortunately we were able to help Randall access the urgent care he needed. Upon his release from the hospital, Randall entered our Housing Program. Through hard work and dedication, Randall turned his life around and re-united with his family. He currently works for Swords to Plowshares as one of our outreach coordinators, helping veterans regain their dignity, hope and self-sufficiency.

Hobart Lee

U.S. Marine Corps, 1978-1982
“I respect the veterans who were in the Housing Program with me because of what they do to change their lives. The best thing about Swords’ program is that it was an opportunity to work on myself.”

Hobart served two tours with the Marine Corps just after the Vietnam War, coinciding with the evacuation of U.S. troops from 1978 to 1982. Upon returning home, he tried out for the NFL and played two years with the L.A. Express as well as another year with the L.A. Rams. A shattered shoulder ended his football career in 1985, and he moved to San Francisco to look for a job though he had little experience outside of the military and the football field. Long-time unemployment eventually led to drug dependency and homelessness, and from 1989 to 1994 he wandered the Tenderloin and Lower Market area, eventually serving time in prison on drug charges. On his release, Hobart enrolled in Swords to Plowshares’ Housing Program, graduated in 2010 and established a home of his own. He later went back to school to pursue a degree in counseling, volunteers with at-risk youth, and began working at the VA to give back to his fellow veterans.

Raymond Houston

U.S. Navy, 2005-2009
“Swords was amazing when I needed the most help. When I met with my employment counselor, he made a phone call to one of his contacts at a security company and immediately set up an interview for me. I went straight from his office to the company and was hired on the spot. The people who helped me at Swords were vets, so they know how it is. I could really relate to them a lot more than anybody else who was trying to help.”

Ray Houston, served in the U.S. Navy from 2005 to 2009, including tours in Iraq. Soon after finishing his service, Ray secured a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. He set out to leave Norfolk, Virginia to relocate with his expecting wife and daughter to pursue a new career. Unfortunately on the trip out, Ray and his family were robbed of all their possessions to the point they didn’t even have toys for their daughter. Soon after, he found out the job he had lined up was no longer available. Even his backup plan to apply at the local police force was put on hold because of to a hiring freeze, so Ray found himself starting from scratch. The Employment Development Department referred Ray to Swords to Plowshares, where he met with an employment counselor at our Oakland office. Together they mapped out a plan for Ray’s future career goals. After landing a job at a security company, Ray was promoted after only a few months. Also, with the help of Swords’ staff, Ray enrolled in school to pursue an engineering degree and secured donations to replace their stolen belongings.

William Boehm

U.S. Navy, 1967-1971
“When you go from the military to civilian life, it’s like two different worlds. A lot of veterans end up on the streets. After the Vietnam War I ignored my PTSD for decades until my life crumbled around me. I never thought I would become homeless, but I spent three years wandering the desert.”

After the Vietnam War, Bill returned home to San Francisco and tried to get help at the VA, but PTSD wasn’t recognized at the time and there were no services to help him. He went on to get married, start a family and open a business that thrived for more than two decades. The symptoms of his PTSD went untreated however, and his family life began to unravel. He eventually sold his business and was homeless for years, wandering the country before seeking help in 2010. Bill was referred to Swords to Plowshares and received both supportive housing and mental health counseling, all the while battling colon cancer. Bill made his home at Swords to Plowshares’ Veterans Academy for three years, where he facilitated peer counseling groups and was an active member of the community. He subsequently moved on to an apartment of his own in Pacifica and now dedicates much of his time supporting fellow veterans through a peer-based counseling model called “Vet-to-Vet”.

Geoff Byrd

U.S. Air Force, 2001-2005
“Swords has helped guide me to aid and empower myself to make changes in my life. At their Housing Program you learn a whole new lifestyle.”

Geoff served from 2001 to 2005, flying with the U.S. Air Force over Iraq and much of the Middle East. After returning stateside, he found that he had trouble sleeping, was easily startled, and often overcome by memories of attacks that he experienced overseas. Unaware these were symptoms of PTSD and having underestimated the transition to civilian life, Geoff turned to alcohol rather than treatment. By the time he heard about Swords to Plowshares, he was in need of both counseling and housing. He benefited from the structure and stability of the program and successfully graduated with plans to pursue college.

Tangerine Gyi

U.S. Army, 1999-2007
“The women veterans I’ve met in the community and finding outlets for my artistic expression have helped me put back together the incomplete, dismembered and shattered parts of my life.”

Tangerine Gyi has lived in San Francisco since she was a teenager. After joining the California Army National Guard in 1999, she was activated in the wake of 9/11 to guard the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2004, she was deployed to Iraq for 18 months, and again in 2006 to San Diego in support of homeland security-border patrols. After her military service, she enrolled at City College of San Francisco to study anthropology. School provided a means to become more connected with the veteran community and Tangerine soon learned about Swords to Plowshares through her veteran peers. A budding artist, she became involved with our Women Veterans Program through its annual art show, SHOUT! For Women Veterans. In addition, our Women Veterans Program Manager helped Tangerine link with the services and support she needs to address her health, employment and overall wellness.

Victor Fleming

U.S. Army, 1977-1979
“I self-medicated for thirty years. Now I live at Veterans Commons and it is more than my home—it’s a community here. Being able to move in was a miracle that’s given my life new meaning. The people working here will help you with anything. If you’re a vet and you need help, we have a staff here to go to who are problem solvers.”

During a period of homelessness that lasted more than five years, Victor at one point suffered a 62-day coma. He continued to jump from shelter to shelter until he was referred to Swords to Plowshares. Swords secured an apartment for Victor at Veterans Commons, one of Swords’ permanent supportive housing sites. Victor moved in on November 21, 2012, a date that coincided with the one-year anniversary of his father’s death. For the first time in years, he was not ashamed to show his 18-year-old son his home—in fact he is very proud of where he now lives.

Eddy Wedertzhow, Sr.
U.S. Army, 1972-1974
“I know the pain of hitting bottom and now the joy of coming back out on top.”

Eddy returned home from military service to his wife and two young children, and managed to keep a steady job for the next 14 years. Haunting memories from his time in service still lingered, as did bad habits, and he began to take sick days and lose focus at work. His drug and alcohol dependency led to divorce. When Eddy sought help at the VA, they pointed him to Swords to Plowshares, where counseling helped him beat his addiction. He got involved in volunteer activities and even helped open a youth gym on Treasure Island. Time spent at our Computer Learning Center rounded out his skill set, leading to employment at a property management company. A year later, Eddy became one of our housing program managers. He enjoyed mentoring veterans and serving as a mentor to other veterans so they too could regain control of their lives.

Dan Raridon

U.S. Marine Corps, 1981-1985
“I really appreciate the Treasure Island Housing Program because it has given me a future. We get here and it’s like a big ol’ loving family. It is the best program I have ever been in.”

Dan sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from his time in service but still managed to hold a job as a plumber for 18 years to support his wife and two children. Though Dan was already abusing alcohol by the time he left the military, it worsened when he returned to civilian life and he could never last longer than 30 days sober. When friends told him about Swords to Plowshares, Dan was struck by the extent to which our staff cares for clients and helps them to work through issues. Our Housing Program helped Dan finally maintain sobriety and get his life back on track. He credits his success to our “vet-to-vet support network.”

Alexandra Crichlow

U.S. Air Force, 1981-1983
“Thankfully, with support from my counselor at Swords to Plowshares, I reclaimed my life. My daughter and I left our darkest days behind.”

While working on her bachelor’s degree in engineering, Alex was recruited by the U.S. Air Force. She was the only woman assigned to a unit comprised of 26 men and faced constant harassment and sexual assaults during her time in service. Her pleas for protection and transfer requests were continually denied and eventually she became pregnant. For more than 20 years after leaving the military, she suffered from PTSD brought on by military sexual trauma, in addition to long bouts of isolation due to severe agoraphobia. For many years, she relied on support from our counselors at Swords to Plowshares who coordinated mental healthcare and supportive services for her and her daughter. Swords’ staff helped her and her daughter to remain stably housed and gave the ongoing encouragement and support she needed to continue addressing her mental health issues.

Rob Kane

U.S. Army, 1990-1992
“Swords to Plowshares aims to heal veterans and give them every opportunity to redeem themselves with dignity. Swords gave me a helping hand when I needed it and helped me to overcome a rough patch in my life. It is an honor to work for such an organization.”

A U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany, Rob found out about Swords and their services through the COVER veterans’ reintegration program as a way to complete community service. Rob’s technology skills were uncovered during his volunteer service and he was offered a full-time position with Swords. With a BA in Political Economy from UC Berkeley, Rob uses his IT experience to manage our website and other Internet services to improve communications and outreach initiatives and has completed his master’s degree in Project and Systems Management at Golden Gate University.

Samuel Bibbens

U.S. Army, 1960-1963
“I’m comfortable with my life now. In fact, I’m enjoying my life more today than any years before.”

Sam first came to Swords to Plowshares after a series of battles with drugs and alcohol that caused him to lose his job. At Swords, he found help working with our staff in Employment and Training as well as counselors in our Frontline Drop-in Center. Years later, Sam decided to move back to his home state of Louisiana and make a new life for himself in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina, however, created a new set of obstacles and he found himself homeless. Three years after the hurricane, Sam returned to San Francisco and applied to live at our Veterans Academy, a permanent supportive housing facility in the Presidio. In October of 2008, the Veterans Academy became his permanent home. He has improved his life by furthering his education, staying clean and sober, and playing an active role within his community.

Erick Varela

U.S. Army, 2002-2010
“A lot of people don’t realize that being in the military is a lifestyle, not just a job.”

During his two tours of duty, Erick was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. When he came home in 2007, he struggled to acclimate to the civilian world, compounded by a suffering economy and the immediate need for employment to support his family. Erick learned about the PG&E Power Pathways Program, where he could gain skills to pursue a career in green technologies. After hearing that Swords to Plowshares had teamed up with PG&E to offer the training program at no cost to recently separated veterans, Erick quickly signed up. He excelled in the program and was not only offered a job upon completion, but was quickly promoted. He looks forward to the future opportunities it may bring.

Vicki Hudson

U.S. Army & Army Reserves, 1979-2012
“My life would have taken a very different turn, if not for the aid and support of community agencies like Swords to Plowshares. Instead of moving forward, I likely would have succumbed to depression and isolation.”

During her 33 years of service, Vicki Hudson served in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 and deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1996. She continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves despite battling with symptoms of PTSD, and while also working jobs in security and food service. In 2000, unable to find affordable housing, she was forced to live in her truck with her two dogs for months on end, volunteering at a food bank in return for bags of groceries. Swords to Plowshares found her an apartment and provided the deposits she needed to move in to her new home. Without assistance, Vicki would not have been able to keep her dogs, who were integral to her PTSD stability. Following the 9/11 attacks, she was recalled to active duty for three tours where she commanded three separate battalions. A writer with an MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California, Vicki now lives with her spouse and children in Hayward, where they own a home.

Jonathon Lee

U.S. Army, 2001-2005
“Being out in the world—it’s different. Other vets understand what I’m going through. In Swords to Plowshares’ program, I finally felt like I could take care of, and deal with things.”

After 9/11, Jonathon decided to answer the call of duty even though he was already in his 30s. Before his deployment, his drill instructor said, “Some of you are going to Iraq, some of you to Afghanistan, and some of you are going to die.” Each time he had a near brush with death, he felt lucky to not be counted in the third category. Shortly after returning home from Iraq, his luck took a turn for the worse and he found himself dealing with the psychological wounds of war. Jonathon spent more than three years homeless in Northern California before seeking help through Swords to Plowshares’ Housing Program. The program allowed him to live in supportive housing for over a year and receive the treatment he needed to cope with his PTSD. Jonathon completed the program in 2010 and moved to an apartment in Oakland. Thanks to the GI Bill, he was able to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

Helo Halo

U.S. Marine Corps, 1981-1985
“It’s all about vets helping vets. If another vet can hear my story and understand the advantages of going through Swords to Plowshares, that’s all the payoff I need.”

Helo was working as a dishwasher in Gualala, California, when he hit bottom as a result of his drinking. His boss tried to help, but when he continued to drink, there was no choice but to fire him. Helo spent the next few months homeless, until in August of 2006 his friends decided it was time for an intervention. They enrolled him in the VA healthcare system, forcing him into a van and driving him there to be admitted to the VA Substance Abuse Day Hospital. The staff there referred Helo to Swords to Plowshares, and he was quickly admitted to our Housing Program on Treasure Island, which he credits with saving his life. After graduating to permanent housing at our Veterans Academy in the Presidio, Helo enrolled at San Francisco City College and became a Nursing Assistant at North and South of Market Adult Day Care. He plans to become a Registered Nurse and continues to be an advocate in the veteran community.

Kevin Miller

U.S. Marine Corps, 2002-2006
“Swords to Plowshares truly understands veterans and how to support them through their continuum of care and model of ‘vets-helping-vets’ They provided me not only with the support I needed, but also gave me the opportunity to give back and advocate for my fellow veterans.”

Kevin joined the U.S. Marine Corps infantry just out of high school and served three combat tours in the Middle East. Transitioning from the Marine Corps in 2006 to the civilian world was far from easy. Even after earning a college degree, Kevin struggled to find meaningful employment and endured a form of homelessness politely known as “couch-surfing.” Swords to Plowshares brought him on as their AmeriCorps VISTA, landed him in his first permanent residence in over two years under the SSVF program, and provided legal assistance in his disability claim with the VA. After serving a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, Kevin was brought on full-time at Swords, where he uses his experience to advocate for the best opportunities and resources for veterans as the Strategic Development and Communications Coordinator.

Wendy Barnett

U.S. Army Reserves, 1979-1985
“Swords is a Godsend, my saving grace. They treat you like a whole person, taking in everything and digging in deeper to find the real situation in order to help. They don’t just focus on your military service, but also what has happened in your life since then. They help you along the way, and have helped me every time I needed it.”

Until Swords to Plowshares opened family housing in February 2012, Wendy and her 14-year-old son were homeless. As a single mother, she struggled for more than two years to find work and affordable housing. Once we learned about Wendy’s hardships, through a social worker at the VA, our Women Veterans Program Manager called to inform her of an opening at our new permanent family housing and how to apply. Within two weeks, Wendy’s life changed as she and her son moved in to a freshly renovated two-bedroom apartment. With the stability and support she needed, Wendy landed a job at the VA Hospital where she can give back to fellow veterans.

Brian Jarvis

U.S. Air National Guard, 2012-present
“After months of watching my savings disappear, I was one rent check away from having to leave the Bay Area with my head in the sand and trudge back to the Midwest to crash on my mother’s couch. It was that close. Here I had a master’s degree and still couldn’t get my foot in the door. Swords didn’t just find me a job. They gave me a job that was tailor-made for me. For that I’ll always be grateful.”

Brian joined the California Air National Guard in 2012 at the age of 35. After finishing his active duty training, however, he found himself back in the San Francisco Bay Area in desperate need of a full-time job. His pay with the Guard was less than $200 per month—barely enough to cover groceries, much less rent. Hiring managers were leery of his part-time military status. After six months of unemployment and no interviews, Brian was ready to quit California altogether when a colleague recommended Swords to Plowshares. Within a month, Brian was hired as their full-time Communications Associate, a job he loves. He continues to train on weekends with the 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Field in Mountain View, where he serves as a Public Affairs Specialist.

John Wood

U.S. Army, 1969-1972
“I knew I had a problem with PTSD. I fought long and hard to get effective treatment from the VA, and I was told to suck it up and be a man. It took me from 1972 until 2006 for the VA to admit that I had PTSD. Swords to Plowshares bent over backwards to help me when all the others would not, providing me with free attorney representation.”

A Vietnam combat veteran, John suffered from PTSD for 37 years without finding proper treatment or help. In 2012, he was living in a tent in the woods and feeling cut off from the rest of the world. When a friend told him about Swords to Plowshares, John decided to finally seek help. He worked with one of our attorneys who determined his eligibility for VA benefits and fought for him to receive a fair disability rating. We were able to get John medical care at a VA hospital as well as disability benefits to compensate for decades of suffering. John has been able to cope with his PTSD thanks to the help of his psychiatrist.

Jose Castro

U.S. Marine Corps, 2001-2005
“After coming home I thought I was okay, but I would snap sometimes. I knew I couldn’t keep living the way I was. So I went to Swords to Plowshares. They were awesome and gave me the encouragement I needed. I felt like I had someone on my team.”

Jose joined the Marine Corps after 9/11 to “fight for and protect his country.” He deployed to Iraq in 2003 but soon began having difficulty sleeping, controlling his anger and connecting with his friends. The nightmares worsened when he came home. People told him that he wasn’t the same, and it was true—he was struggling with PTSD and wasn’t getting the help he needed. After connecting with Swords, Jose was able to work with our legal department to gain access to treatment and disability benefits. Seven years after his discharge, he finally qualified for his VA benefits and healthcare. Jose went back to school and worked with our employment team, who provided him with encouragement, career options and a plan for the future.

Mary Rivera

U.S. Navy, 1979-1988
“We put our lives on the line for our country and we love our country. The staff at Swords to Plowshares was there when everybody else turned their backs. When I was in Swords’ housing program, they told me that I don’t have to worry anymore—you are home now.”

After serving eight years in the U.S. Navy, Mary struggled through periods of homelessness, alcoholism and mental illness. In 2008, she had a breakdown and needed help. She learned about Swords to Plowshares through the VA hospital and moved to our Housing Program on Treasure Island, where she bonded with fellow veterans, obtained counseling and was able to heal. After graduating from the program, Mary reconnected with her family and friends.

Sean McKeen

U.S. Army, 2005–2009
“Swords to Plowshares helped me pay for classes in motorcycle repair so that I could have a job that I actually love. I just want to be a regular guy who can take care of my kids and ride motorcycles.”

Sean McKeen joined the U.S. Army at 17, eager to embrace something new in life other than the rural one he knew growing up in Montana and Washington State. He spent 15 months in Iraq as a combat engineer, specializing in explosives and urban tactics, a job that was often harrowing. The life he returned to after service was a difficult one, and battling PTSD made it even more difficult to stay on track and out of trouble. Sean found himself living at a homeless shelter that was often “out of control.” At the shelter, Sean met a resident who told him about Swords to Plowshares, and his first appointment coincided with our first Job Fair. Sean learned about opportunities for both employment and housing, and soon he moved to our Housing Program on Treasure Island. From there he enrolled in classes and began working with our counselors on his PTSD, as well as our staff attorneys to file a benefits claim.


U.S. Army
“It is so sad to see homeless veterans sleeping on the streets. With all of the difficulties that we go through as veterans, and particularly LGBT veterans, I wish there were more organizations like Swords to Plowshares who go out of their way to help out more veterans and bring them into the system of care.”

Jodi immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine alone and without a support system during a major transition in her life. During her first few years in the US, she had no support system or assistance from her family or anyone else and, as a non-native English speaker struggled to navigate her way through programs and options.  When she needed help the most, she tried to access services and support within the community, but had no success. She felt lost and alone.
Having struggled so much to survive after moving to the U.S, Jodi decided to joined the U.S. Army to give herself opportunity and direction and also to give her family in the Ukraine financial support and future opportunities. She had hoped that serving in the military would later give them a chance to move to the U.S. for a fresh start. At the time, her family was living amidst horrible conflict in the Ukraine and, at least in part, Jodi was inspired by the idea of serving in the military to protect freedoms and combat injustices she and her family had experienced in the Ukraine.

Unfortunately, Jodi’s time serving in the military was ridden with harassment, abuse and isolation. As an immigrant, she stood apart from other who served alongside her and felt outcast. As an LGBT servicemember, serving in the military reminded Jodi of what it was like to live in a homophobic Russia and the harassment and rejection she experienced. Harassment and isolation from her fellow servicemembers was out of control and regular insults, including being called a “Russian faggot,” later turned to more serious violence. Jodi was sexually assaulted by a fellow servicemember and as a survivor of military sexual trauma, she continues to find ways to cope and heal from those wounds.

When Jodi left the military, she became homeless and was living on the streets in New York. Again, she struggled to find any programs or services that could help her get off the streets and find the support and services she needed. But despite being homeless for years, Jodi did not give up hope. She moved to San Francisco and was hopefully when she learned that the City and County of San Francisco and Swords to Plowshares could provide her with housing and the support she needed to get back on her feet. She finally had a roof over her head and some hope for the future.

Since being able to escape homelessness, Jodi has been able to dedicate efforts to advocating for her LGBT peers and veterans like herself who are faced with obstacles and injustices that still exist for LGBT servicemembers. Jodi looks forward to helping more LGBT and immigrant veterans to find the services and support they need and deserve. She hopes that sharing her experiences an immigrant who had no family, no help and no home for years, but was able to turn her life around – will give others hope that they too can overcome the obstacles they are faced with.