It’s not uncommon to see homeless veterans holding signs on street corners, hoping for handouts of some sort. It’s an unfortunate epidemic. But some veterans who are not as visible don’t necessarily live better lives: Some of them have made their homes deep in the forest, out of sight and out of mind.
John DeGraff has spent 11 years living in a structure made of branches and tarps in the middle of the woods in Boston, Massachusetts. The Navy vet has a small camp tucked out of the way, where he lives his life quietly.
He has his cooking utensils and a fire pit he cooks over and uses to keep himself warm — but the fire pit is in his tent, and it could easily take down his tent with him in it.
The life he’s made for himself has kept him going, but living in the dirt and cold for over a decade is no way to honor a veteran, so a local group has been trying to convince him, a little at a time, to give up his camp and let them help him.
“Disabled & Limbless Veterans, Inc is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing meals, clothing, and shelter to America’s most needy Veterans and their families,” the organization’s Facebook page states.
“We are a group of Veteran and civilian volunteers who are the conduit between individual and corporate donors and Veterans and their families in need of services and support.”
“Our vision is to empower and improve the lives of Veterans and their families by providing assistance and support. We seek to educate the community about the needs of Veterans and the opportunities to meet these needs. We want Veterans to know we care and hope to inspire others to care.”
They’ve clearly let DeGraff know they care, by bringing him food and offering him more permanent shelter. That’s standard for them, as they make a point to help veterans by making sure they are fed, clothed, and have adequate shelter, wherever they are.
The founder of Disabled & Limbless Veterans, Mike McNulty, invited Boston 25 News’ Bob Ward to come see the state that some forgotten veterans live in.
“They’re out there,” McNutty said, according to WFXT. “A lot of these guys don’t want to go to the shelters.”
“There isn’t a veteran who should be living under these conditions. These are guys who fought for their country. Why are they in a situation like this?”
Dom Marcellino, president of the outreach group, added that this is fairly typical for the strong-willed veterans they meet. “We still see people fall through the cracks,” he said, “just for the fact that they are stubborn, they are self-sufficient.”
“They are proud and they won’t put their hand out for anything.”
The scene made quite an impact on Ward, who posted some photos of the camp to Facebook, along with his reaction to the scene he witnessed firsthand.
“This was easily one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen,” he started. “Just got off the phone with Disabled and Limbless Vets, the group working with John, the group that reached out to me for help.”
“John is now in Transitional Housing. They told me he cried when he said, ‘This is a new beginning for me.'”
“God bless John and the people at Disabled and Limbless Vets and all of the others I haven’t met, for making this happen. John will never get those 11 years back. But at least this community has not turned its back on him.”
“There is still good in this World.”
DeGraff isn’t the only veteran who’s kept a stiff upper lip and retreated to the woods, preferring rugged self-sufficiency to handouts. According to Marcellino and McNutty, there are around 200 others in Massachusetts alone, though they are certainly doing their best to bring that number to zero.
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