Tom Clark, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, didn’t follow the usual path to veteran homelessness.
It wasn’t drugs, alcohol or jail that sent this college graduate into a downward spiral. It was perfectionism, an extreme preoccupation with neatness and a need to control his environment that devastated his personal relationships and created major suffering and stress in his life.
“I was on my third try attempting to live with the same woman when she sent me packing again,” Tom recalled. “Even though we had been together over 10 years, we just couldn’t live together because I had such a need to control everything. I ironed her clothes, did the shopping, house cleaning, laundry, cooking and organized the whole house to where it looked more like a museum than a home that was lived in. If something was scratched, stained or dented, or in any way ‘not perfect,’ I tossed it out. I emptied the trash four or five times daily. My only motto was, ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ That poor woman had to come home after a hard day at work and check the dumpster for her prized possessions that I considered excess debris and timeworn scraps.”
Tom found it difficult to relax, and despite excelling in his work, he could not understand why his private life always unraveled. It wasn’t because he wasn’t intelligent or motivated. Tom earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Amherst College and both a master’s degree in Social Work and a Non-Profit Business Administration degree from Boston College. He had worked as a correctional officer, counseling supervisor and program manager for two different organizations. He earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and taught martial arts for six years. Still, his behavior had led him to homelessness.
In 2010, after the death of his father, Tom boarded a train from California to his native Massachusetts to help settle the estate. While in Massachusetts, he discovered Soldier On during an online search for veteran’s assistance. Once he settled into the Soldier On program, Tom worked with a psychotherapist who diagnosed him with OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder). Although he initially denied he had this problem, Tom gradually began to accept his situation and agreed to work on his struggles under one condition – that he be allowed to do so without medication. Soldier On supported his decision and Tom has shown dramatic improvements in his ability to interact with people on a collaborative and interpersonal level.
Tom currently serves as an outreach case manager for the Soldier On SSVF (Supportive Services for Veteran Families) federal grant in eastern and upstate New York, helping fellow veterans to access support services to avoid homelessness. He also continues to see a therapist on a regular basis at his place of employment at no charge. At Soldier On, Tom has served as a committee member, resident staff member and General Manager of the Pittsfield facility.
“Not only did my associations excel and improve after Soldier On, but the relationship with my partner in California is now healed,” Tom said. “We are both extremely happy and grateful to Soldier On, and plan to spend the rest of our lives together. I could not have achieved this without Soldier On. I was allowed to set my own pace, address my issues and continue to work in a supportive environment all at the same time. I knew that if I fell, I would be picked up, brushed off and set back on track by people who truly care about you as both a struggling veteran and an at-risk human being.”