CHARLESTON, W.V. — Less than a year after separating from the Army as a first lieutenant, Daniel Cummings has found himself sleeping on the streets of West Virginia under a blanket that's printed in the design of a DD-214 active duty release form to keep him warm at night.
Cummings was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army until September 2019, when he decided to apply for a release from active duty.
"I was fed up with everyone and everything that the Army had to offer and made the rash decision to just get out," said Cummings. "When I went to college and started ROTC, I was sure the Army was going to be my life, but within a year I hated everyone."
"Then I became sure life on the outside would be better," Cummings said.
Homelessness for veterans has skyrocketed since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with soldiers who were either involuntarily forced out, or decided to leave the military without planning for the future.
"It breaks my heart when I go home to West Virginia and see all the homeless vets sleeping on the streets" said retired Gen. Joshua Moore.
"They come up to my truck all the time, but I usually just turn up my radio while listening to 'Take Me Home Country Roads' and try to ignore them," he added. "I mean, it's not my fault they're homeless, maybe they should've listened to the career counselor when they had a chance. I just wish they'd stop trying to clean my windshield for money."
"Aren't there programs to help get these guys jobs or something?"
Soldiers often spend their time in the Army talking about their disdain for the military while prophesying about their plans once they're a civilian.
"I knew I was going to be accepted into a high level government service job," said Cummings. "The day I got out I saw this awesome blanket on Facebook that looks like my DD-214, and it was only a hundred bucks. Really could use that hundred dollars right about now."
On a regular basis, veterans will talk about how they miss a lot of aspects of the military, but don't regret their decision to transition to the civilian world.
"Sure I miss the camaraderie and brotherhood, but if I had to choose between this park bench and blanket or have to deal with another motor pool Monday, then I'll take sleeping with the raccoons every time," said Cummings. "Although it would be nice if some people pissed at the president just sort of helped me, you know?"
Transition services across the Army are constantly trying to improve the "Soldier for life" program which is intended to set soldiers up for success after they leave the military.
"Don't believe the hype when people tell you there's tons of contracting agencies waiting to hire you," Cummings said. "I applied for them all, and the only thing I lined up was an interview at the local Chik-Fil-A."
"Hopefully they'll let me take some leftovers home after work," Cummings said.