After the VA Boston Healthcare System referred him to Habitat PLUS in 2011, Wood sometimes needed convincing to get out of bed or make his bed, according to executive director Susan Campbell. He was depressed and fearful of what might lie ahead.
“He told me that even after all the missions he flew in Iraq, the most terrified he’d ever been was the day he was discharged from [the VA hospital in] Brockton,” Campbell said. “He had been diagnosed and was being put out of the hospital and into the streets.”
But at Habitat PLUS, the community of up to 14 veterans functions like a home, she said. The facility was begun in 1989 after Campbell, a trained counselor who had lost a cousin in the Vietnam War, and cofounder Bernadette Forti realized how many local veterans were both homeless and psychiatrically disabled.
An official nonprofit since 1995, Habitat PLUS gradually extends responsibility to those who show they can handle it. Wood thrives here, Campbell said. He guides fellow vets who need a hand up or a nudge to get moving. He drives other residents to buy groceries, see a movie, or go to church. He now leads support groups at the VA in Boston. Sometimes Campbell asks him to intervene when a resident needs motivating.
“Steve will kind of rag and motivate [others] to do what they need to do, more so than if a staff person were to go to them and say, ‘You need to take a shower,’ ” Campbell said. “They respect him. They see how far he’s come in a short amount of time. . . . He has just naturally come to be a very important person to everybody who lives here.”
Because Habitat PLUS residents have been homeless and afflicted by PTSD, most aren’t strong candidates for independent living, Campbell said. In Wood, they see evidence of what is possible when you’re loved and committed to forging healthy habits.
Wood still faces challenges. He dreams about flying, then wakes up to the reality that he might not ever fly again. The letdown can be discouraging.
But he hasn’t given up his flight gear, he said, because the possibility of returning to aviation is still there.
Meanwhile, he’s gearing up for new adventures, such as perhaps a career in the FBI. And no one here doubts he can do it.
“Nobody [from Habitat PLUS] has been totally successful — gotten a job, got married, had a car and a boat,” said Robert Whitney, a Quincy-born veteran and Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained scientist who has lived at Habitat PLUS for 16 years. “Stephen, though, has potential to do this. I tell him, ‘Do it. Go to school. Play sports. Go to church.’ And he’s doing it.”
Contact Jeffrey MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org .