Ending veteran homelessness

Jeb O’Rear’s plan to pursue a military career was cut short, but the former airman has found a way to continue serving.

After graduating from high school, O’Rear embarked on what he anticipated would be a 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force. On July 4, 2011, he arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he completed his basic and tech school training before arriving at Key Field in Meridian, Mississippi, in December, motivated to serve his country.

“It was kind of bittersweet but very exciting,” O’Rear said.

He was eager to pursue a military career to contribute to ending the war on terrorism, mainly because his father, an Army veteran, had been injured by a roadside bomb while serving overseas.

Despite finding fulfillment during his time in the Air Force, his plans for a six-year service were abruptly halted by an unexpected medical diagnosis, leading to a premature end to his military career.

After his honorable discharge from the Air Force, he set his sights on leaving Mississippi. He eventually earned his bachelor’s degree and relocated to Wisconsin to be closer to his family.

When he started his job search, he hadn’t considered working in behavioral health. Although he had some luck finding employment, finding a job that truly held his interest and left him feeling satisfied was challenging. He eventually applied for and landed a job at Rosecrance Harrison Campus, working with first responders and veterans.

“I had no idea what to expect, but I felt like I could help some veterans. I was certainly aware of the veteran housing crisis and suicide crisis. I just felt like I could do better myself and help more veterans than what I was doing,” O’Rear said.

He happened upon another Rosecrance job that led him to his current position as the veteran’s housing case manager, working to help connect unhoused veterans struggling with mental health or substance use.

When O’Rear first meets an unhoused veteran, he takes the time to build a relationship and truly understand their needs, including the behavioral health services required to support their stability, which isn’t always easy and rarely happens instantly.

“It may take a day, a week, or even a month, and it may just start as a conversation about what they need. It can be tough for them, but it’s an awesome opportunity if they are willing to talk to me,” O’Rear said.

O’Rear said getting veterans housed is the easy part. What’s most important is all the work he does with them over the two-year period—establishing substance use or mental health treatment, helping them find employment, and setting them up for success when they do leave the program.

“The hardest part is the work they need to put in,” O’Rear said.

O’Rear is deeply committed to providing comprehensive support for veterans. He empathizes with their challenges as they navigate significant changes and new expectations. Having personally experienced a career-altering condition that led him to reevaluate his life plan, he understands the resilience and strength required to overcome such obstacles.

“I’ll tell the veterans when I first meet them that it’s OK if they need to take a step back but that they can’t heal in the same place that hurt them. If you are homeless, you can’t heal there, so let’s help you by getting you somewhere new,” O’Rear said.

Despite the initial disappointment of leaving the Air Force, he has found fulfillment in his personal and professional life alongside his wife. He is grateful for the journey he has forged, which brought him to his own new place to heal.