Military News

His son died on Veterans Day. Now he’s trying to help Coast vets transition to civilian life.

Kevin Cuttill’s son Jason died on Veterans Day, 2009.

Four years later, he founded Crusaders for Veterans on the Mississippi Coast to help veterans struggling with financial problems.

In January, he was moved by the suicide of a Army veteran who reminded him of his son, though his son did not commit suicide.

“He couldn’t adjust, he was going through a hard time,” Cuttill said.

His group had helped the veteran save his car from repossession and find a job. He looked like he was doing good, “but the PTSD just kept hitting him.”

The veteran, who had served in Afghanistan, talked to his wife an hour before killing himself.

She said he was happy, and “there was no indication at all that this was going to happen,” Cittill said.

“Something tripped on his PTSD, and he ended his life,” leaving his wife and a 6-month-old child behind.

“It rips your heart out,” Cuttill said.

“You see in their faces that their lives are changing, things are going good, but you can’t predict PTSD.”

‘A big vision’

That experience brought the group to conceive the TYR Village. It would be a place to provide housing for veterans who are struggling to transition from military to civilian life.

The hallmark of the program would be to provide veterans with practical vocational skills to help them find a good job.

Often, the skills veterans learned in the military didn’t transfer well to the civilian work force.

“Coming home to a civilian job, you can’t get a job shooting people,” he said.

They want to develop a complex that is all-inclusive, to teach veterans a trade and teach them how to function again in the civilian world. Veterans would be able to provide emotional support for each other to cope with PTSD while there.

“If we can stop one suicide attempt, it’s worth it.”

“We want to get them off the street, get them educated, get their credit rating up and get them standing on their own two feet, and proud to be themselves again.”

They have turned to Habitat for Humanity for help and advice.

“They’ve got a big vision,” said Chris Monforton, president and CEO of Habitat Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Start small

His advice to them, however, was to start small.

“We want to be supportive of their endeavor because it’s a target population that we’d like to be able to work more with.”

The Open Doors Homeless Coalition, in conjunction with Supportive Services for Veteran Families, provides housing for 150 to 200 veterans and their families a year.

At any given moment, there are probably 10 homeless veterans on the Coast, but they have developed a good network for helping them, said Mary Simons, executive director of the coalition.

“Helping with transition and employment skills before a housing crisis would be helpful,” she said. “It’s a needed program.”

There are many hurdles to overcome, including money and public acceptance.

“Any time you start talking about a homeless shelter, NIMBYism starts coming up,” said Monforton, referring to Not In My Back Yard syndrome.

Cuttill remains optimistic and determined, despite having only raised $18,000 of the expected $5.6 million needed to build even a small complex.

“We’re going to be fundraising for a long time,” he said.

He has received pledges of cash from several businesses, and he hopes to cut construction costs with contractors that have said they are willing to help with labor.

He knows they still need to find major sponsors and get politicians on board providing support.

“I’ve got a community coming together to build a community for our veterans, which is priceless,” he said.

“We’ve got to help them transition to civilian life and make it work. Once you accomplish that you’ve got a better community all around.”

Anyone interested in donating to or helping with the project can contact Tammy Washburn at 573-253-0311. 228-896-2193 @JFitzhughPhoto
Photojournalist John Fitzhugh has reported on South Mississippi through photos, stories and videos for 31 years. He has won three McClatchy President’s awards, and was part of the Sun Herald team that won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for coverage after Hurricane Katrina.