Be sure to thank a vet today.

And if you know one who is homeless, mentally ill or drug- or alcohol-addicted, go one step further.

Tell them that help is available at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

Too many are unaware of this.

Jennifer Berry Hawes’ account in the Nov. 3 Post and Courier detailed a comprehensive effort to help veterans struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

Vets can get help getting off the streets and overcoming their addictions.

Homeless and addicted to crack and alcohol, Army vet James Wright, 50, of Charleston got help after someone clued him in.

Now he wants to tell others. Many vets out there don’t know that, he said.

‘A devil drug’

Help from the VA was the best thing that happened to Wright; he wished he had known about it earlier. He spent most of his life addicted to crack-cocaine — “a devil drug.”

When he got out of the Army at 21 in the early ’80s, Wright began dating a woman addicted to crack.

At first, he bought drugs to please her. Then she kept telling him to try it. One day he did.

“Once you try crack, you are hooked. Crack is a terrible drug that is hard to get off of. “The highs don’t last long, so you spend a lot of money on it.”

You can spend $500 in about three hours doing crack and drinking beer.

Were it not for the military, “I would be messed up. I thank God that I did serve so I can get the help”

Now clean, Wright wants to set an example for his daughter, son and grands.

He is in a 90-day program and in transitional housing. He reports to the VA center five days a week.

It’s where we spoke on Friday as he waited for his 45-minute session.

The VA center’s lobby was filled with mostly men — black, white, young, old, wheelchair-bound and cane-wielding. All going to and fro.

This is Wright’s second attempt at getting clean. He relapsed after the first. “It was my fault; I did not follow up and went back to the streets.”

This time, though, he is determined to make it.

Tonya Lobbestael, the center’s public affairs officer, said the VA programs are designed to meet vets where they are. Workers go out into the community and into shelters to find those who may need these services.

Thank you

Wright, like many vets, don’t celebrate Veteran’s Day.

But he is grateful when strangers say “thank you.”

He does not include himself, but he said many vets gave so much, and they deserve so much more.

Another vet, Michael, 47, a Youngstown, Ohio, native, spent 12 years in the Navy, including some time in the Persian Gulf.

While waiting on his prescription, Michael, who did not wish to give his last name, said he too does not know many veterans who celebrate the day.

However, he does appreciate when others say “thank you.”

He has started saying “thank you” to other veterans. It means so much.

So, to Michael, James Wright and all the other veterans, thank you. And Happy Veteran’s Day.

For help, veterans can call the center at 577-5011 and ask for the homeless program; go to www.charleston.va.gov; or simply stop by the VA center at 109 Bee St. and ask for help.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or sgreene@postandcourier.com.