Pablo Agrio, after serving seven years in the military, left his post with an honorable discharge after his disgruntlement with a failure to achieve admittance to an officer track due to insufficient SAT scores. He was devastated after exerting his best effort in pursuit of that goal, saying, “I just didn’t measure up.”
He left the military on a Friday and joined the police force on a Monday.
Pablo is a fifty-nine year old veteran of the United States Marines Corp. Originally from Panama, he is now living in Los Angeles after his release from prison six months ago. This came after serving nearly three decades.
Just weeks after his release, I met Pablo through my friend and psychologist at the Los Angeles Veteran Affairs (VA), Dr. Shoba Sreenivisian. Through my work with ENDPAIN, I had become increasingly interested in unpacking the veteran experience, and when Dr. Sreenivisian invited me to meet her at group she leads for formerly incarcerated veterans, I went with an open heart.
Without knowing his story, I was immediately impressed by the honest sincerity by which Pablo carried himself. He, along with others in the group, expressed their willing desire to make living amends with the world, all while struggling to navigate a system of benefits (at the VA) that was at once promised to them for their act of service.
Before I knew it, I has started to become entrenched in attempting to understand the issues that lay before veterans like Pablo and his peers, especially as significant budget cuts threaten their ability to make ends meet and honor those living amends. In an attempt to examine these issues, Pablo agreed to an interview.
On the surface, joining the police force appeared to be a natural transition from the military for Pablo. However, during our interview, he recounted the specific ways in which military training was counterintuitive to his police work and the potential risks present for abuse of power. It is important to note that 20% of our police force has a military background and preference is given to ex-military personnel in the selection process for the police academy.
Given his pent up aggression over the terms of his exit from military service, as well as the general rigor of that experience, there is a question of whether more could have been done to support his successful reentry into civilian society.
Tragically, Pablo’s unchecked aggression compounded and resulted in the untimely death of his wife at his hands. For this crime, he served twenty-eight years during which time he took advantage of all services available to heal and reform. He even went back to school and obtained a law degree while incarcerated. He participated in numerous domestic violence courses and empathy trainings, as well as accessed extensive mental health treatment services, some of which were funded by the VA.
This is encouraging, and I can attest to my personal experiences in getting to know Pablo as a gentle and intelligent human being, which resonates with the assessments of his mental health practitioners. Still, Pablo faces systemic obstacles and societal-bias that seem to preclude him from rebuilding his life. With no permanent housing and low job prospects, Pablo’s situation begs the question of the true value of the rehabilitative services he has received, if his social and financial status renders him helpless. Pablo speaks in depth and detail around the nature of the systemic obstacles he faces, and I urge our readers to take the time to listen to his full story.
He has paid a price for his crime, will forever live in remorse for the suffering he has caused others, and is someone who has a deep desire to reintegrate into society and realize the purpose in the suffering he has experienced. What positives can we take away from Pablo’s hard-earned lessons and expository candor?
From Pablo’s description of his experiences with VA programming outside of prison, he faces the risk of homelessness or worse. In his effort to make living amends for his crime, Pablo chose to share his experiences candidly with the desire to open dialogue for the U.S. military, the Federal government, and the civilian community to consider, “What should Pablo do now?” The question of “What should I do now?” is relevant for the thousands of at-risk vets in need of our help.
The road to reform of U.S. Military systems will be long, but on this Veteran’s Day let’s all take this opportunity to join the conversation around unspoken social contracts made with military service men and women, and how we can support and honor the healing needed for the possibility of reintegration to be real.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
MOS: Military Occupational Specialty. Denotes a service member’s role, indicating their capabilities and expertise.
BOOST Program: Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training. The BOOST program offers active duty enlisted men and women between the ages of 18-24 the opportunity to receive extensive academic preparation in order to become more competitive for selection to the Naval Academy, Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program and Navy/Marine Corps Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship programs.
NAB Coronado: Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Located across the bay from San Diego. Provides logistical and administrative support to the Navy units located on base.
VA: Department of Veteran Affairs. A federal agency dedicated to providing comprehensive services to eligible veterans. Veterans who received honorable discharge from the military are considered eligible. Explore their website at VA.gov.
The DOM: Short for Domiciliary, in reference to the Domiciliary Care Program. This program is the VA’s oldest, and is dedicated to providing housing for economically vulnerable veterans. The program has evolved from a "Soldiers' Home" to become an active clinical rehabilitation and treatment program for male and female Veterans, and domiciliary programs are is now integrated with the Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment Programs (MH RRTPs). Read more about it here.
HUD-VASH Vouchers: These vouchers combine the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) to provide rental assistance for homeless veterans and their families. Beneficiaries are selected based on certain requirements including health care eligibility, homelessness status, and income. Read more about ithere.
vSSVF: Support Services for Veteran Families. The SSVF program gives grants to selected private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that will assist very low-income Veteran families residing in or transitioning to permanent housing. Grantees will provide a range of supportive services to eligible Veteran families that are designed to promote housing stability. Must display secure source of income to be eligible. Read more about it here.
CWT: Compensated Work Therapy. A Veterans Health Administration vocational rehabilitation program that endeavors to match and support work-ready Veterans in competitive jobs, and to consult with business and industry regarding their specific employment needs. Read more about it here.
USAJobs: USAJobs is the United States Government's official website for listing civil service job opportunities with federal agencies. The site is operated by the United States Office of Personnel Management. Visit their website at USAJobs.gov.
Chrysalis: Los Angeles based nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals by providing the resources and support needed to find and retain employment. Visit their website at: ChangeLives.org.