ICLC Helps Homeless Marine Corps Vet Suffering from PTSD Secure Housing and VA Benefits

Eric Velasquez* served in the Marine Corps from July 2006 to March 2009. During his time in service, Eric was deployed first to Kuwait for training, and then to Iraq for 7 months. In Kuwait, Eric’s unit was stationed in a city that had been torn apart by war. Eric didn’t realize how much he was affected by what he saw in Kuwait until he got to Iraq and was bombarded with the sounds of explosions on a regular basis.

“I saw what the aftermath of war looked like in Kuwait and I was in the middle of it in Iraq,” Eric recalls. After losing two fellow Marines to an IED explosion during his combat deployment, Eric’s mental health started deteriorating. He became anxious and was easily angered. He couldn’t sleep. He sought help, and just prior to returning stateside, Eric was prescribed Prozac.

Back in the US, at Camp Pendleton, Eric’s anger, anxiety, and sleeping problems worsened. He began drinking heavily. Eric says, “I would fall asleep with the bottle in my hand.” When Eric got into a fight with three fellow Marines, he was discharged with an Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge status.

After leaving the Marines, Eric continued to suffer from severe PTSD symptoms and was arrested for aggravated assault. He was not able to work and soon became homeless.

Eric had applied for VA compensation in 2013, but because of his OTH discharge status, the VA had told him he was not eligible for any benefits, including housing, compensation, or healthcare. After years of suffering alone, Eric finally found ICLC and his life began to change. In May 2019, Ariana Barlas, an attorney with ICLC’s Homeless Veterans Project, helped Eric apply for a Character of Discharge Determination and argued that, at the time of his in-service misconduct that led to his OTH, Eric was experiencing PTSD symptoms that negatively influenced his behavior. They argued that the PTSD symptoms should mitigate the misconduct, and Eric should be found honorable for VA benefit purposes.

Just months later, after Eric and Ariana attended a formal hearing at the VA, Eric was found honorable for VA purposes and was service-connected for PTSD, with an effective date of April 2013, the date Eric originally applied for benefits. Not only is Eric now eligible for all VA benefits, he also received a lump sum payment of $106,000 in retroactive benefits and monthly compensation of $1,500.

Eric’s case remains open and we are continuing to fight for him to receive an overall disability rating of 100% because of Eric’s inability to work. Eric is now able to support his entire family, and with a baby on the way, he has expressed that this is life-changing money.

*Client name changed for confidentiality purposes.