Veteran Edward Schwirian didn't know where to turn a few years ago when he found himself calling into the veteran's suicide hotline. The Army corpsman who served four years in Germany in the late 1970s had fallen into depression after discovering he was going to lose his home.
"I was so depressed," Schwirian says. "I was going to lose my apartment. I didn't know if I was going to live under the bridge or take the bridge."
Within 20 minutes after calling the hotline, Schwirian received a call from Health Care for Homeless Veterans who were able to connect him with a number of services to get him back on his feet.
"They helped me get reorganized," Schwirian says. "They made sure I was safe."
Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
A sampling of the photos at the VA hospital exhibit
Schwirian is one of the veteran's featured in a photo exhibit on display at Oakland's VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System hospital this week. The exhibit, which features photos taken by veterans who were asked to take pictures that represent their health, is part of a research study looking at homelessness among veterans.
"We wanted to know what they consider quality care to be. We wanted to know what veterans think," says Lauren Broyles, a research health scientist with the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion who conducted the project. "What we learned is that homeless veterans think about their health in really complex ways."
Among the photos were images traditionally associated with health: prescription pill bottles and greasy food. But other more abstract images ranged from snow-covered trees and a fishing tackle box to a window view of run down buildings with boarded up windows.
"They're really metaphorical and powerful, and I hope they break down stereotypes. This is so much more evocative than a five question survey could ever be," says Broyles. "This isn't just meant to be a feel good window. It should also drive the services we're providing. Literally we want to amplify their voice."
Another veteran with a photo on display at the Oakland VA hospital is Hope Peterson. It's an image of her dog, a source of pet therapy that helps treat her post traumatic stress disorder. Peterson has suffered periods of homelessness over the years due to mental health related hospitalization.
"My dog helps a lot with my mental health," Peterson says. "I get lonely sometimes and having that unconditional love helps."
For Tina Matey, program manager of comprehensive vocational services for VA Pittsburgh, mental health is an often overlooked component of veteran healthcare. She hopes the exhibit, which will be up in VA Pittsburgh’s University Drive lobby from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, will shed light on other overlooked aspects of veteran healthcare as well.
"Everybody has a story to tell. This is a small sampling but there are so many stories out there," says Matey. "It's just wonderful, and I'm glad people will get to know there are a lot of good services out there."