U.S.VETS-Prescott celebrates 10 years on duty

by Lisa Irish
This article originally appeared in The Daily Courier on January 6, 2013.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Air Force Veteran Darryl Silvius works on a computer inside the U.S. VETS building at the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott Friday morning. Silvius is currently a student at Yavapai College working on a degree in business management.

After being an emergency medical tech for years and raising two sons on his own, Darryl Silvius hit rock bottom. He then went to the U.S. VETS program in Prescott and got back on track.

“I raised two boys to be men of integrity and honor,” said Silvius, who served in the U.S. Air Force. “But after the kids left home I lost my focus.”

Silvius said his life quickly went downhill when he started drinking to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he’d developed from work and losing two children with his first wife.

“When I first came here, I had nothing,” Silvius said. “Being in the very secure environment U.S.VETS provides has been a lifesaver.”

U.S. VETS-Prescott opened in January 2003 as a transitional program to help homeless veterans reduce barriers to self-sufficiency, said Barbara Mikkelsen, executive director of U.S.VETS-Prescott.

Over the past 10 years, nearly 1,000 veterans such as Silvius have graduated from U.S.VETS-Prescott, and next year the program plans to help 125 veterans, Mikkelsen said.

“We help them deal with their legal issues, financial difficulties, drug, alcohol and mental health issues,” Mikkelsen said. “While they’re with us, we work to eliminate those issues, they set short and long term goals for themselves, obtain and retain employment, and save money for their needs when they leave the program.”

Silvius, who lives in one of U.S.VETS three permanent housing units, said case managers helped him get motivated, encouraged him to take advantage of opportunities, and urged him to begin training for a high-wage career.

“They push you in the directions you need to go,” Silvius said.

The career center and computer access have been a great help, “but more than that, the staff provides us with a lot of tools for a holistic approach to our mental, physical and spiritual needs,” Silvius said.

U.S.VETS receives funding from grants from Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that require 65 percent of their graduates to transition into a permanent setting, and last year the Prescott program exceeded that goal with 77 percent, Mikkelsen said.

While the goal sobriety rate at discharge nationwide is 80 percent, the Prescott program reached 90 percent, Mikkelsen said.

A grant through the Department of Labor provided U.S.VETS-Prescott with a workforce coordinator who since July has been connecting veterans with employers in the area who need skilled workers.

Since August, a VISTA volunteer has developed more than 76 activities and community service projects for U.S.VETS-Prescott participants, ranging from clearing brush and chopping firewood for families in need to hikes and trips to see the Arizona Sundogs games, Mikkelsen said. Any group interested in hosting an activity or with an idea for a service project should call Andrea Plischke at 928-445-4860 ext. 5938.

Many participants in U.S.VETS-Prescott, like Silvius, work as well as take classes at Yavapai College to earn certificates and associates degrees that will help them in their careers, Mikkelsen said.

Silvius said he is finishing business management classes at Yavapai College, and will soon begin a medical coding internship at the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

Silvius said his grown sons are proud of how he’s turned his life around.

“U.S. VETS has helped rebuild me from the ground up,” he said.