One Door Closes and Another Opens

As I sit here surrounded by the executive leadership of the California Veteran Community.  It’s day 2 of the CalVet Leadership Summit,  a gathering of the Senior and Executive Level leaders of US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, CA Veterans Affairs, the County VSOs,  DAV,  American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America,  Swords to Plowshares, VetFund Foundation, other Veteran Service Organizations from around the state.  I’ve never seen every VA Medical Center and Regional Office, and County  VSO in one room at the same time.  The newly appointed CalVet Secretary, Dr Vito Imbasciani MD called this summit to identify barriers faced by the Veterans of California and create strategies and alliances to better serve the Veterans.  The Secretary and other leaders have set a tone of leaving politics and agendas at the door.

I was asked to attend and represent the LGBT Veterans in the State. The timing of this Summit couldn’t have been more perfect.  I was laid off from my position at VOA as a Peer Support Specialist in the HUD-VASH Program due to lack of funding. With my experience of being an underemployed and homeless Veteran I have an insight in the struggles of the Veterans that most of these leaders don’t know first hand.  At first I asked myself why am I here?  I don’t belong in this room surrounded by these executives with travel budgets and resources to give up a week to travel to the Capitol. However, some how The gods smiled down on me and made this opportunity possible.

When I return back to LA,  I’ll be using the contacts made here to plan the upcoming Operation: Do Ask,  Do Tell 2016 and establish resources and programs for the Veterans in LA,  and possibly find a new position working to continue to serve LGBT Veterans not only in LA but across the State.

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

For the past 6 months to a year, I have been taking time to concentrate on myself and get on a better path. 2014 was one hell of a year, I’m telling you the struggle was definitely real. 2014, marked 10 years since I was kicked out of the one job I truly loved. I was discharged under the former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy for loving a man, right after being given a medal for going to war and fighting along side my brothers and sisters. Subconsciously the anniversary of getting kicked out of the Army for being gay was really hitting me hard, and for a long time I was cutting myself off and would stay in bed for weeks on end.  Not good, I know.. Trust me it was not a cute time…

I thought that 2015 would be off to a good start and it started off rough. For a few month my home life was not stable and in July I ended up becoming one of the many Homeless Veterans in LA County. Let me back track a lil… 

One great thing happened in March, I met a great guy.  For privacy let’s just call him, Pup. Pup and I had been friends for several years and on Easter went on our first date. We started dating and a month later we were out eating Tacos at La Estrella in Highland Park and he asked if I wanted to be his boyfriend. Of course I said yes.

Things with Pup were off to a fabulous start then about a month and half ago we hit a rough patch. I noticed he started spending more time with his friends and when we were spending time together we we weren’t as engaged with each other as we were.  This also happened right around the time I became homeless. One could say it was after the honeymoon stage while others would say we weren’t meant to be. I not sure what happened but I can tell you I still care deeply about Pup, hell I still love him. So, a week ago we were out having pie and I confronted him about this and was asking for a  little more attention, I wanted to feel loved. With becoming homeless and trying to figure out life in general I was feeling alone and defeated. Come to find out he claimed to be distant due to my PTSD, I was too reserved and closed off.  I have trouble with intimacy and letting anyone get to know me. I am working on it, however who ever wants to be with me has be willing to go with the ups and downs of living with a Combat Veteran. Gurrrrl, The struggle is real & the devil is a lie! I tell you it can be rough but if you work it out, it can be one of the best loving relationships you will ever have. 

Well we parted ways and it hit me really hard. I lost one of the only good things I had going for me. But you do what you can and roll with the punches. Well, a few days later my buddy the Muscle Cub and I started chatting again. Last year we had went out a few times and when my home life started to fall apart we parted ways but stayed in contact.

This weekend we both were talking and we both have lots of things we are working on and think it might be beneficial to work together and accomplish our life goals. He even asked if I’d be interested in setting down and us eventually become a married couple. I’m seriously considering it, I have been single way to long and would love to have someone to come home to after a long day at work.  It will be nice to share a bed & home with someone I care about, and cares about me. It will be nice to even live with a man that might be interested in starting a family some day, a few dogs, few fish, and even a lil clicking baby or two… You never know…

So there it is, I might be getting married to my best friend. All this right after starting a new job as a VA Contractor a few weeks ago and getting approved for the VA’s Section 8 Program last week. Things are starting to finally look up. It’s true what they say, “One Door Closes, Another Door Opens.”

That’s that, know it is alot to process, will keep y’all posted on how things unfold over next few months. It might be a Christmas wonderland wedding…

Iraq war poetry | PTSD | Poem by a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars living with post-traumatic stress disorder

Many have asked me what it’s like to live with PTSD and/or what it was like to serve in a combat zone. It’s difficult to explain to someone who had never served, as the experience is unique, and it also effects everyone differently. For some the experience is so traumatic that they literally break down immediately and can never recover, while others go on to live normal everyday lives with little to no impact on their well-being. For the most part many come back with a degree of PTSD. This poem I found recently let’s the world see thru the eyes of the Veteran. I recently shared this with the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, as I am a vocal Gay Combat Veteran, and felt some of them needed to be educated on what some elements of my everyday life is, as well as many other Veterans.

One thing to think about is LGBT Veterans also face an added layer of anxiety as they also faced discrimination for being who they are. Some of which, like myself, where kicked out of the service for loving someone that the military said was unnatural. This stress along with the stress of surviving combat is something I would never want to wish on my worst enemies. It is however part of wgat makes me the man I am today, and why I have dedicated my adult life to helping my fellow Veterans navigate the hell that is the VA System, and life.

Take a look at the original poem here as well as some of the others on the site that Veterans have written. Their words are a peek into our lives that the world will never truly see…

The Following Are Some of the Feelings
That Most Will Never Know

By Robert R.

Today I freaked out in a store where danger was non-existent.
Maybe if I stay up all night doing coke there won’t be any nightmares.
But I can’t go without sleep.

The war is over for me.
I don’t understand why I panic or break out into sweats
or fits of anger.

Today I saw most of my family for the first time in a year.
Nothing felt real; everyone was but a stranger passing by me on a street.
“Dissociation” is the term, I believe.

I feel like my mind has shattered
and that I left my soul in Iraq.
I don’t want to admit that I’m hurting inside.

When my emotions were shut off,
I didn’t get to choose which ones I would keep.
I feel utterly lost.

I used to be strong and proud.
Now all I can think about is what I saw, what I experienced.
Nothing in the world seems to matter beyond that.

I think more now, and when I speak it’s with a sarcastic tone.
Months of feeling dead inside are followed by a week of depression and tears.
I feel weak and frail, my identity and faith shattered.

In “The Odyssey,” Homer asked:
“Must you carry the bloody horror of combat in your heart forever?”
The answer still eludes me.

I encourage everyone who reads these words to really take a moment and take them in. Try and see the world thru the eyes of the reader. May they help you better understand the horror of what living with PTSD is…


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“War Comes Home: Shad Meshad”

My past employer, The National Veterans Foundation, sent me this link this morning. It’s an interview of one of my personal heroes and mentors, Shad Meshad an Army Vietnam Veteran who now dedicates his life to helping Veterans and their families cope with the struggles of coming home after war. As a young man barely 19 years of age, I was sent to Iraq to bring freedom to people I knew little about & told I would probably die for my country. I was scared out of my mind, and was lucky to come back home. As a kid, you are tried to react to the stress of combat, and you encounter many things that the normal person only reads about or sees on TV. That is something that you never forget. To this day I still have nightmares about dead bodies on the side of the road, in crumbling buildings or bombed cars. The sweet stench of death and burning flesh is something you never forget.

However, the home I came back to didn’t feel like home. This was back in 2004, when I was kicked out of the Army for loving a man, and they gave me the boot immediately after my deployment. I didn’t get a chance to completely debrief, as they say. My life was on the line for an entire year, I lost a good friend, I protected the men and women who where at my side. And when I loved a man, I was told thank you for your service, but we don’t want you anymore. When I came home it took me years to not freak out from the sound of a door close. I still have problems with crowds, people I don’t know and fireworks. I know I’m a mess, but I’m a work in progress. I’m also working on fixing myself so I can once again love a man, and accept his love in return.

Everyday I bare the scars of war, and the scars of being outcast for loving a man. So, I thank Shad for giving us a little insight as to what our Veterans really go thru. I know first hand what its like, and if it wasn’t for people like Shad, I don’t know if I would be alive today.

War Comes Home: Shad Meshad:


Apolonio E Muñoz III | C: 818.281.6060 | apolonio.munoz@gmail.com

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Get back to work, Congress

I thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on recent events. Before I go into why I sat down to put these words to paper, I feel I have to share a little on who I am. My name is Apolonio E. Muñoz III, am a Service–Connected Disabled Veteran, full-time unemployed student who happens to also serve on several organizational boards. Currently I am the Acting Chair of the San Gabriel Valley Veterans Employment Committee, Public Relations
Officer of the Southern California Veterans Employment Committee, President of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, National Secretary of the American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Chair of the Committee of LGBT Veterans for the Veterans Caucus of the California Democratic Party, and a Fully Professed Member of the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. As you can see, I am pretty well connected in the community as an openly gay Veteran living in Los Angeles County.

I write these words not as a Board Member of any of the above organizations, I take off all the many hats that I wear on any given day and I write the following words as me, Apolonio the Service-Connected Disabled Veteran. I originally wrote these words on board the LA Metro this evening as I travelled from Pasadena, CA to Burbank, CA, after attending class at the University of Phoenix in Old Pasadena. With the news over the past few days of the government shut down gaining much media and community attention, I am losing all respect for the country’s leadership. Let me explain why I feel this way. In the summer of 2001, I decided in order to leave my small town in South Texas and to make something of myself; I would join the US Army. In October of that year I was sworn in and started basic training in Ft Jackson, SC. It was then that I learned what it meant to serve one’s own country and the sacrifices of the men and women who came before me and died in the name of freedom. It was then that I also sworn an allegiance to the US Constitution and the country’s leaders. I swear an oath to honor and defend that document from all enemies foreign and domestic, and to this very day still take that oath to heart.

As I sit here on the LA Metro, I am reflecting on the events of the day. I find myself dumbfounded to believe that the leaders I have entrusted with safeguarding my freedoms as well as that of the others on this very train have let the Federal Government come almost to a screeching stop. I say almost cause there are some select members of the Government that still have their jobs, however many have been furloughed effective Midnight of 1 October 2013. Yes, the media has been the voice of impending doom over the past few days and weeks leading up to today’s events however myself and many other American have been ignorant to think that the US Congress, our own dully elected politicians would let this happen. I find myself extremely disappointed that grown men and women who are charged with making the hard decisions on the various aspects that effect our everyday lives would fight and act like spoiled children, resulting in thousands of Americans furloughed and without a way of providing for their selves and families, all the while knowing that their own paychecks would not be affected. I have many friends and family members that have been directly affected by recent furloughs that were periodic in the sense that each had to give up only a few select days a month, however now they are being furloughed indefinitely. In theory these individuals have a job technically, however they are not allowed to report to work and earn a paycheck until the US Congress comes to an agreement on the National Budget. I know I am not alone in thinking that Congress itself should not be paid until it passes the budget, it would only be fair.

As a Disabled Veteran, I currently rely on government assistance in the form of VA Disability and VA Education payments to pay my living expenses. These payments are not very much and I don’t live an extravagant life,
however it is enough to survive from day to day. Soon, very soon this government shutdown will affect even me, as my VA benefits can be suspended if Congress doesn’t pass its budget in a timely manner. I am a little relieved to know that at the moment my VA healthcare would not be affected as the VA passes that budget a year in advance.

Just knowing that currently thousands of Americans are wondering how they are going to provide for their families, some are even thinking about looking for alternative employment options as Congress doesn’t seem to be making any headway on finding a solution to this current government fiscal debacle. If things continue thousands and possibly millions will also be in the same situation, including myself and all my fellow Veterans. It doesn’t stop there Federal student programs will eventually be suspended as well. Like I mentioned in the opening, I am a full time student and utilize Student Loans and Grants to cover what expenses the VA doesn’t cover. Word that those programs will eventually be suspended also gives me great concern, as my entire income will cease to exist. Did the US Congress consult the very citizens they represent before they made the decision that created this problem? If they did I must have missed that call, text, email or letter. They didn’t worry about the regular citizen that is forced to live on government assistance. It is estimated that in LA County alone there is 24% of its population living below poverty line. In the most populated county in the country with nearly 10 million residents and having some of the Country’s most wealthy as residents this is a travesty that so many will soon be affected by Congress not passing the budget. Many of these residents will soon be adding to the already high numbers of homeless that call LA County home.

Again, I find myself greatly disappointed and like I wrote earlier I have lost all respect for our Nation’s leaders, to allow something this severe happen on their watch. The news states that similar government shutdown have occurred in the past, and can last a few short days or as long as weeks. As things unfold, both parties are blaming each other and not wanting to cooperate and come to a mutual agreement. If this would be anyone else that
missed a highly important deadline, they would be fired immediately. 
If I had the chance to personally address Congress on this very issue, I would choose to share some words that some would think as harsh. Those that have worked with me in the past would understand and not be surprised to read/hear them as I don’t like to play games, especially when it comes to getting things done and has something to do with my fellow Veterans. I would tell Congress, “Do your jobs or step down.” I would go on the calmly explain by saying, “You were elected to your current positions and all the American public ever sees is you and your colleagues acting like spoiled children. I understand that you base this non cooperation of both sides in regards to the Affordable Care Act. If you lost the vote that created the law, and the many votes that would repeal the law after it was signed by the President, and the US Supreme Court didn’t find the law to be unconstitutional, then maybe you need to give up and move on to more important policies that deserve your attention. So grow up and get back to work.” Again I would state to them, “Do your jobs or step down. If you refuse to meet your deadlines and get along with your colleagues then maybe you don’t deserve to be in the position you are in. I’m sure there are many other capable adults that will do what is needed to make the difficult decisions and act in the best interest of the citizens of this country, all citizens not just the ones that finance the election campaigns, such leaders that would understand how the actions/decisions that are made in Congress affect the everyday lives of all Americans.”

For a while I have tried my best to stay out of the political arena, since my views can be seen as radical, however after seeing these men and women can’t do the job of the US Congress maybe we need modern day politicians that have lived the life of the everyday American. Someone that what it is like to live one pay check at a time. Someone who rents a small residence because that is all they can afford. Someone that has to use public transportation to get to and from work and other appointments. Someone that has had to choose between buying food and paying your bills. Come to think of it, I might have to step up to the plate and take a more active role in doing something to help my fellow Americans, you might just see my name on a ballot someday. All I know is right now we need leaders in DC that will get the job done and not blame the other side for them not making a competent decision.

So much to do…

I am sitting here taking a breather from packing. Tomorrow morning I have to be at the Airport (LAX) bright and early. I am boarding a plane to head to Denver for the AVER National Convention. The stressing part is I am taking Mariposa along with me, and she is used to having her own large duffle bag on wheels when we go from one side of LA County to the other, however for this trip I have to pack all of her stuff  for one maybe two nights out and my clothes for the next 4 days into one suitcase. Damn, the airlines and their baggage restrictions. But, I shall overcome this obstacle. I only wish that bitch would figure out what she is going to wear. She has some many different habits (clothes) to choose from. We were able to downsize her make-up/jewelry cases to a small travel size make-up bag. No matter what she choose to wear, she is excited to be gracing the Convention with her presence and give the City of Denver a very special blessing. So look out Denver, Sister Mariposa Patriota, The All-American Charity Whore and I are coming for ya….

Why I fight…

I know this is from an old episode, but it just proves that I must continue to fight for the rights of my brothers and sisters in arms. So that someday soon, NO Veteran, Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, Coast Gaurdsman, Reservist, or National Gaurdsman has to go thru this again. We first and foremost are men and women  that proudly served our county, and some of us happen to have loved ones that happen to be Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Transgender which deserve to be at our side when we need them the most. Personally I haven’t experienced this, but know many who have. It can be the worst feeling in the world to know that you can’t be there at your loved ones side when they need you, or to properly say good bye. That they had to go thru this tragedy alone, when you aren’t allowed to be there or even recognized as a loved one. Some day soon, we will all be able to enjoy the freedoms and rights as people, and the labels of today will be a thing of the past.

 

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