Catching vets before they fall

Costa Mesa program is designed to help soldiers returning to civilian life and pull up some who have hit bottom.

October 18, 2012|By Brittany Woolsey

When he got out of the U.S. Army with an honorable discharge in 1993, Patrick Tillich's life took a negative turn.

He spent some nights in jail, which he looked forward to so he wouldn't have to sleep on the streets. He also enjoyed the jail's warm meals over Dumpster diving for food. He continued the drug abuse he had picked up overseas while in the service and was absent from his daughter's life.

"As an active alcoholic and drug addict of over 27 years and a homeless veteran, I felt that nobody cared about who I was as person," he said via email. "I had no direction or purpose in life, living day-to-day, feeling alone and 'out-casted' by society."


After resisting change for years, he decided that his daughter needed her father and enlisted himself in a treatment program for homeless veterans. The program directed him to Working Wardrobes, an organization which he said helped him become sober, get an education, find employment and earn partial custody of his daughter.

VetNet was founded by Working Wardrobes, a Costa Mesa-based nonprofit founded in 1990 dedicated to helping those in transition return to work.

Originally an organization to help female victims of domestic abuse, Working Wardrobes eventually expanded to help men and women in various straights find work.

Veterans were added to the program in 2005, and VetNet became official last year.

Harry Humphries, executive director of VetNet and a former Navy SEAL, said that VetNet focuses on recent veterans, as well as veterans who are recovering and trying to get back on their feet. He also said that 25% of homeless veterans in the country live in California, with the next highest percentage being 9% in Texas.

"We try to catch them before the fall, and we try to bring them back up when they're down," he said.

VetNet provides job-training and mentoring for veterans looking to find work. They also provide them with wardrobes, donated by the community, volunteers and Men's Wearhouse, as well as help them write current and appropriate resumes.

An earlier version incorrectly said that the organization that Patrick Tillich found during treatment was VetNet. In fact, it was Working Wardrobes. Also, VetNet is funded by donations from volunteers and Men's Wearhouse, incorrectly spelled Warehouse, as well as the community.

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