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'Overwhelming support' | Formerly homeless veteran works to help fellow Hoosier veterans

"It was just overwhelming the amount of support and love that I received as a veteran," Deanna Lewis said.

INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of veterans around the country are currently homeless, many struggling here at home after serving our nation. 

An Indianapolis veteran has found a way to build her life back up after dealing with grief and homelessness, now making it her mission to help her fellow veterans the same way others helped her. 

"It was just overwhelming, the amount of support and love that I received as a veteran. It felt like I was more so part of a family," said Deanna Lewis, a U.S. Army veteran.

Lewis has made a home in central Indiana over the past few months, closely connected to many veterans and services around Indianapolis.

Credit: WTHR/Rachael Krause

But just a year earlier, Lewis found herself in a tough spot. She had been medically discharged from the Army more than a decade earlier after an incident with a duty truck. Then last year, pregnant and excited to start a family, she had come up from North Carolina to visit her sister.

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"After being out here maybe a week is when I miscarried. And I lost kind of my sense of well-being and so I ended up at the VA Medical Center, at the hospital," Lewis said. 

Grieving and depressed from the loss, Lewis became homeless. She found care at the VA and a place to stay in a residential program.

Credit: WTHR

"I was able to get mental health services and things I dramatically needed at that time. But once I began to heal and I began to get better, I still was homeless. And one of the things I knew I would need to do in order to change that state would be to get a job," Lewis said. 

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"Whenever there's a veteran that is in the progression of getting ready to go for employment or in Deanna's case, somebody who has no coat and it's wintertime, then we get a call," said John Goings, veterans services director at Easterseals Crossroads in the homeless veteran reintegration program.

Goings said at Easterseals Crossroads, they're able to connect with veterans in need of help with housing, employment or resources.  At last count, Goings said there were more than 500 homeless veterans in Indiana, many of them living here in Indianapolis.  

It's why these services are so vital. 

Credit: Easterseals Crossroads

"It’s 100% critical," Goings said. "If you're not working and you're not able to support yourself, then you just kind of become a shell of yourself and that's one of the biggest problem we have with the military, they transition out and everybody kind of falls apart."

"It was just overwhelming the amount of support and love that I received as a veteran. It felt like I was more so part of a family,” Lewis said. 

After working closely with Goings and the staff at Easterseals Crossroads, Lewis said she began working with the compensated work therapy program at the VA. Now, Lewis works there full-time, monitoring supplies and inventory at the hospital, the same place that cared for her months earlier when she was in need. 

With housing, a full-time job and now, a fiancé at home, Lewis said she's grateful for the helping hand her fellow veterans gave her and that now, she can help pay it forward.

"When I got the services there in the VA, I remember exactly how they helped me and how it touched me. And it feels good to be in a position to be able to reach back and give someone else that same support," Lewis said. “I just can’t think of where I would be if not for the support I received from the Easterseals and the VA Hospital. It just really means a lot to go from nothing to having something and possibly even having it all."

Veterans who are struggling with homelessness, housing issues or employment challenges are encouraged to contact Easterseals Crossroads for help and support.  

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