Walking in an Army Veteran’s Shoes
By Neil A. Carousso
Rance Mangum enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 15, 1988, proudly serving the United States of America for over 5 years.
“People’s lives depended on you,” said Mangum.
When he returned home to Long Island in 1992 from his tour in Germany, Mangum was homeless, moving in with his grandmother, who raised him since he was 3-years-old. His grandmother, who died in 2012, was his inspiration for dedicating himself to life of service. He spent 14 years as a firefighter, upwards of 30 years in various medical roles, including an EMT, EKG technician and a Certified Nursing Assistant in private Army duty in Florida.
“She made sure that I had my principles and know right from wrong,” said Mangum. “My grandmother says that you have to help others to help yourself.”
About 11 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 39,471 vets are homeless on a given night, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Furthermore, homeless vets are younger on average than the total veteran population with 41 percent of homeless vets between the ages of 31 and 50, according to the VA.
“The transition [from military service to civilian life] depends on the person, their educations, their situations, their past,” said Mangum, adding, “Sometimes all a person needs is a chance, just a chance to start their life over. Just don’t look at them as a homeless person or a street person walking around, you have to look at the person themselves.”
Mangum, 62, recently signed a rental lease at a home in West Babylon, NY and is seeking employment in the MTA, driving New York City buses after he completes his Class B driver’s license test in December.
“We had a lot of training, because we didn’t know if we were going to Iraq,” said Mangum, who finds civilian work more difficult due to the lack of respect for military members by some employers.
“In the military, you’re in charge of millions and millions of dollars worth of equipment, you are, and you come back here to the United States and civilians look at you for a couple of thousands of dollars, because they don’t think you can handle it,” adding that some employers have a condescending attitude towards veterans who say they can handle tasks.
“Take a couple steps in my shoes.” – Rance Mangum, U.S. Army Veteran
There are 495,000 unemployed veterans in the United States as of the end of last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Vets over the age of 45, like Rance, account for a 57 percent unemployment rate in their age group. Furthermore, female veterans are more likely to be unemployed than males.
Mangum also suffers from some medical conditions, including a benign tumor on the side of his head. With much national discussion centered around the treatment of veterans at the VA, Mangum, who lived at the United Veterans Beacon House at the Northport VA on Long Island for a few months until he moved to West Babylon, said he was treated well and views situations in an optimistic manner, a lesson he has learned in his lifetime.
“Some of these [vets, living and being treated at the VA], you don’t know how intense it was in Iraq [and] Afghanistan,” said Mangum, who added that those veterans who “come back to the United States and don’t have a job, don’t have a place to live, have alcoholic problems, have drug problems and also have symptoms from post-war syndrome” oftentimes just need someone to talk to in order to feel better.
Carol Klein, co-founder with her husband of “Our Heroes Night Out,” supports homeless veterans by hosting gatherings at the Beacon House in Nortphort.
“Sometimes it’s just easier for people to say ‘well, I’ll give you a check for 25 dollars’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t want your money, I want your time,’” said Klein to which Mangum nodded in agreement. “I just say, could you please just come and spend a little bit of time with these guys. It’s all they need – share your talent, share your time.”
Klein’s brother served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, her son-in-law is a Marines veteran and her nephew is going into the U.S. Navy this month.
“Carol is a big part of happiness there,” recalled Mangum. “Everybody loves this lady, they look forward to her.”
Veterans are overjoyed when they receive visits to the VA and letters from people, expressing their gratitude and talking about subjects unrelated to the military and war. Mangum enjoys talking about sports, especially his favorite NFL team, the New York Jets, and even engage in civil political discussions and debate.
Mangum has family he is close with, including one of his sisters, his two kids and several grandchildren, one who just welcomed in Rance’s first great-grandchild into the world. Many veterans, though, find comfort in their military peers.
“Military has a family-type situation,” said Mangum, who has befriended vets who he has lived with at the Northport VA and continues to keep in contact with Army veterans who he served with via Facebook. “I don’t care if you’re a Navy, Army, Air Force guy, you have that camaraderie of military person.”
There are 21,681,000 veterans living in the United States, according to the latest VA data. New York ranks fifth on total veteran population with three-quarters of the Empire State’s vets having served in wartime.
New York’s veteran population is highly concentrated east of the City, where roughly 20 percent of vets live on Long Island, where Rance has called home for the better part of 50 years, between duty overseas and private duty service in other states.
“Let them know that you care,” said Mangum about how people can help those who served to protect our nation’s freedom, sovereignty and values. “It gives them inspiration to do better to help themselves. Sometimes people don’t want to take the time to do that.”