Recovering After Tragedy

Thomas Bradley, a Veteran currently housed at St. Francis House under the VA Homeless Veterans Program, served his country from 1982-1986 in the Marine Corp and then in the Army reserves from 1990-1994. “My friend and I decided the summer after 7th grade we were going to join the Corps and we did! And we dragged along four other fellows with us!”

Mr. Bradley was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, and raised in Ohio. He joined the Marine Corps right after graduation as a rifleman and served two years sea duty and another two years at Quantico, Virginia. “I moved back to El Dorado when I got out, and I thought it would be easy to find a job; after all, I had served my country, I was a marine. But instead, I kept being told ‘no experience, no experience.’ I was already missing the Corps so I tried to re-enlist. But they had implemented a ‘no prior experience’ policy. I tried the Army, and it was the same thing. I tried the Army Reserves, and they said yes, but I needed to get back in shape. I ran, I worked out, I was determined to get back in. I lost fifty pounds to be able to join the Reserves.”

Mr. Bradley joined the Army Reserves and was stationed in El Dorado, but by September, he and his unit were activated. By October, he was in Saudi Arabia, getting ready for the groundwork that would begin in March and last only 100 hours, Desert Storm. “We came out even closer together, a cohesive unit, more like a family. There was a lot to do to get the supplies back to where they were needed, and we stayed until the next October. Then in 1992, I came home to El Dorado.”

Mr. Bradley continued another two years in the Army reserves. “I worked lots of small jobs; after all, a job is a job. Then about the time I left the Reserves, I got a job running a printing press. I stayed there for twenty years. I met my wife in November 1996, and we got married in January 1997. She had a little boy, Devin, whom I adopted. Then we had two more boys, November 1997 and November 1998.”

Mr. Bradley lost his wife from congestive heart failure in 2011, and with the help of his family, especially his mother and cousin, he took on being a single dad to three boys, all of whom had special needs. Then in 2014, an automobile accident upturned his life yet again. His oldest son was killed, and Mr. Bradley was severely injured. Luckily, one son was not with him, and his other son escaped with just scrapes and bruises. The rehabilitation was long, and eventually, his company laid him off. He was rehired briefly, but he found himself unemployed once more after a workforce reduction. “I took classes for my CDL to become a truck driver, but there was something about one section …I couldn’t get it. I went back to El Dorado and went into a depression. It was like not passing that test triggered everything I hadn’t really dealt with. My cousin took me to the VA, and they referred me to the Day Treatment Center. I came here last October.”

Mr. Bradley is now employed as a private security officer at the airport. His oldest son is in group care, and his other son lives with his cousin. “The group home is great for him, and my cousin is a great caretaker, but it’s hard for me. I haven’t been able to see either of my boys since the shutdown. But the groups at St. Francis House have helped me a lot. I’ve learned a lot about self-hate and stuffing things and how to handle situations in a healthy way. I worked as a clerk for the 2020 census, and I was back getting my CDL to be a school bus driver when the shutdown happened. That could have set me back, but I’m a lot more self-reliant now. I’ve saved up money for a place, and I’m going to stay here in Little Rock to get established. I’m going to be doing a walk-through and be getting ready to move out soon.”

With a gift for storytelling, a love of books, and his steady, keep trying attitude, Mr. Bradley is a perfect example of how to grow after tragedy. “I would tell any Veteran to go to the VA and start asking questions. There is a lot of help there; if you ask, someone will lead you in the right direction. And talk to the other Vets and learn from them. Vets always help Vets!”