“Before he knew it, Norman Cooper III, a decorated American Veteran, had lost it all. His career, money, marriage, and the family to which he’d long been devoted were gone in what must have seemed like a blurry nightmare.”
by SETH EISENBERG
Norman Cooper III served honorably in the United States Army from 1980–1983, earning recognition for marksmanship, expertise as a short-range missile crewman, good conduct, and overseas service – where he spent more than half his time in the uniform worn by less than one percent of Americans.
Over the next 25 years he created a life in which many of his most cherished dreams came true; a financially rewarding career, wife and children he loved, and much hope for the future.
But life, as it so often does, had other plans for Norman Cooper III. Untreated depression and traumatic memories he tightly locked away would demand the attention he’d long struggled to deny them.
Before he knew it, Norman Cooper III, a decorated American Veteran, had lost it all. His career, money, marriage, and the family to which he’d long been devoted were gone in what must have seemed like a blurry nightmare.
He found himself in Miami, living in a state of despair from which drugs and alcohol could offer only the most temporary escape, among thousands of homeless men and women who quickly fade into the ever-present shadows of life and death in America’s largest urban communities.
In December 2011, Cooper reached out to Operation Sacred Trust, an innovative initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veteran Families (“SSVF”) program to end homelessness for America’s Veterans.
Three weeks later, Cooper was the first Veteran to move into Dr. Barbara Carey Shuler Manor in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, an eight-story new supportive housing community built and operated by Carrfour Supportive Housing. The lead agency for Operation Sacred Trust, Carrfour has become Florida’s largest nonprofit developer of supportive housing since being established by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in 1993.
From the safety and stability of his new home, Cooper was able to proactively reach out for support from the local VA Medical Center and others, such as PAIRS Foundation that offered on site classes to teach skills for emotional understanding, expression and healthy conflict resolution. Cooper took on his life with the same sense of determination and mission that had earned him recognition for his military service, becoming the champion of his commitment to understand and overcome the demons that had sabotaged his life. He didn’t hesitate to reach out for help, while also owning responsibility for his decisions and getting the professional support that could enable him to rebuild his life and dreams that had not been forgotten.
As Norman Cooper III approaches the second anniversary of a new chapter that began when he accepted the keys to his Carrfour home and chance to rebuild his life, he’s surrounded with love, gratitude and pride.
He now shares a three-bedroom apartment at Shuler Manor with his daughter and two young grandsons he can help through their own time of difficulty because of the work he’s done, and continues to do, to reclaim his own life.
Norman Cooper III is one of nearly 100,000 Veterans who experienced homelessness each year when the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) began funding collaborations of community nonprofits to work on the frontlines in the battle to make sure that within America too, no serviceman or woman is left behind.
In large measure thanks to SSVF and related initiatives funded by the VA, the number of homeless Veterans in the United States decreased more than 30 percent over the past several years. While there’s enormous work to do to continue preventing and ending homelessness for America’s military and Veteran families, much is being accomplished daily for Veterans who each have a name and a story.
This American Veteran’s name is Norman Cooper III. And his dreams can still come true.
Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, a longtime industry leader in marriage and relationship education and a key contributor to the Operation Sacred Trust program.