Photo by Steve Shay
Army veteran Ryan Shannon, a West Seattle resident of Arbor Heights, says he is back on track with his life. He attends South Seattle Community College where he is organizing a veterans club and support group, and is assisted by the Washington State Veterans Innovations Program, or VIP.

Arbor Heights Army veteran, single father of two, readjusts, networks with other area vets

When Ryan Shannon, 29, a single father of two, returned home from his 2007-2010 deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, civilians thanked him for his service, but his family was almost forced out into the street. His wife left his kids while he was serving, and when he did return to his home state of Michigan, let's just say they weren't hiring. Worse, he lost three fingers on his left hand due to a circular saw accident last year.

Luckily, Shannon, who served with the Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion, Delta Company, deployed out of Fort Lewis, found another vet who hooked him up with the Veterans Innovations Program, or VIP, a Washington State organization that, too, is struggling financially, and has helped get him back on his feet with financial assistance in the form of a flexible fund.

Shannon said he feels fortunate relative to many other vets, as he has settled into a "normal" routine of attending school, South Seattle Community College, where he is organizing a veterans club to help others, while renting a house, thanks to the GI Bill. See our article about the new veterans club here.

The GI Bill pays for tuition and a rent allotment, as long as you remain in school. He is helping the landlord repair the home, on the scenic western edge of Arbor Heights with a Sound view. His daughter, Sydney, 4, attends pre-school at the college while Daniel, 5, goes to kindergarten at Arbor Heights School. They are also on food assistance.

"Seems most people, when they get out of the service, they go back to their home town, and maybe live with their parents," said Shannon, adding, "My parent's basement? Not an option. They don't have a basement. My dad is a pastor and works in counseling in schools in Flint, Michigan. He's doing some good. My mom works for a bank. They're not wealthy by any means. They get by. I intend to do more than that.

"Veterans and soldiers, we are programed and built to not be broken," he said. "And when we are broke, we take care of ourselves. So generally when we have a problem we're not the first ones to ask for help." Referring to the VIP, he said, "That's why I am trying to get this veterans club going at the school, for a support group, for a safety net to help other veterans."

HOMETOWN HEROES LOTTERY

The Washington State Lottery has teamed up with the VIP and launched The HOMETOWN HEROES RAFFLE which started Sept. 5 and runs through Nov. 10. Over 3,000 prizes will be awarded on Veterans Day, 11/11/11. Tickets are sold just like the other lottery tickets, and at the same places. You pay $10 per ticket and receive both a HOMETOWN HEROES ticket, plus five Mega Millions numbers. Money raised funds VIP.

According to the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs VIP website pages, "The Veterans Innovations Program was created to provide assistance to veterans and their families facing financial hardships due to deployments in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.Funds are provided to veterans and families in need through two programs within the Veterans Innovations Program."

The programs include a one-time emergency grant up to $1,000, and/or an award that focuses on activities that will help veterans and their families obtain sustainable family-wage employment. Shannon qualified for, and benefits from, both programs.

"I did carpentry after high school," Shannon said. "And I took an electronics program. Carpentry work was really good money and I stuck with that. Then the economy took a dive in Michigan. Building stopped, and I didn't see any other option so I thought I'd join the army. I thought it would be a good way to support my family. I'd never known what I wanted to do with my life. When I came home, I was going to use my GI Bill to go fly helicopters at a school in Florida. The VIP program gave me a game plan. They explained that the reality with war winding down is a lot of pilots are coming home and it would be difficult to find work (as a pilot). So I started college at Evergreen State, then moved here to attend South Seattle Community College. My goal to get into UW.

"In 2007 I went into the Army. Marriage didn't work out when I was away," he said. "Right now I am with the woman I love more than anything. I love my children. I'm on track. I'm so happy. I went from the pits of despair to almost bliss."

Shannon has his sites set on a medical-related field after graduating. But for now he thanks the VIP, and "my backbone at South Seattle Community College, Delores Taylor, who is in charge with Veterans issues on campus." She is helping him and others organize the Veterans club.

There are about 140 "known" veterans who are students there.

Shanon explained, "They blend in well. They are not walking around in uniform. They don't have short hair, necessarily. That's what we do when we're all done. We have to blend in to become who we were."

The West Seattle Herald will run an accompanying article shortly, which we will link this to, about the new veterans club on the campus that both Ryan Shannon, and West Seattle political advocate, Dorsal Plants, also a veteran, are heading up.

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