It’s unfortunately not uncommon to see homeless veterans holding signs on busy street corners, hoping for handouts of some sort. It’s a sad epidemic. But some veterans who are not as public don’t necessarily live more robust lives: Some of them have made their residence deep in the forest, out of sight and out of mind.
John DeGraff has spent over a decade living in a structure made of branches and tarps in the middle of the woods in Boston, Massachusetts. The Navy vet has a tiny camp tucked out of the way, where he lives his life quietly.
He has his cooking gear and a fire pit he cooks over and uses to keep himself cozy and warm — but the fire pit is in his tent, and it could very easily go wrong with the tent going up in flames.
The life he’s created for himself has kept him going, but living in the dirt and cold for over a decade is no way for us to honor a veteran, so a local group has been trying to convince him, one small bit 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 says.
“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 have clearly let DeGraff know they care about him, by bringing him food and offering him more robust shelter. That’s normal 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 reporters to come see the state that some forgotten veterans currently live in.
“They’re out there,” McNutty said, “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 organization, added that this is quite 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 an incredible 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 said. “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 starting crying 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.”