From a childhood during the peak of desegregation in southern Mississippi to a drug and alcohol addiction that would consume much of his adult life, Air Force veteran Alexander has not seen the life he dreamed of as a bright young student. When Alexander came to Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s Veterans Legal Services Project, he hoped to repair the wreckage of his past by seeking a discharge upgrade. His 10+ years of honorable service as an Air Force staff sergeant in Eglin, N.C., was all undone years ago by an “Other Than Honorable” discharge as a repercussion of the drug addiction that unexpectedly began at the end of his military career. His addiction cost him his marriage, his relationship with his four children and his career. For a large part of his struggle with addiction, he was homeless.
“My life began to spiral as a result of my addiction to drugs and alcohol. I lived under a bridge, everything I owned was in a 7-11 bag hidden in a bush, and I did drugs and alcohol at the foot of that bridge at a bus stop for years,” Alexander says. “But on March 15, 2010, I woke up, and I had had enough. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to live like that again.”
Now, after three years of rehabilitation and recovery, attending daily meetings, and reconciling with his wife, children and seven grandchildren, Alexander is giving back the help that was given to him through his job with a local organization that serves those who are unemployed in Mecklenburg County. As he attempts to repair the damage he has done to his past, he hopes to upgrade the adverse discharge that follows him into every aspect of his life.
“[An upgrade] would mean so much to me,” Alexander says. “The discharge has hindered my lifestyle. An upgrade can’t fix all of the damage done in my employment or other aspects of my life, my depression and anxiety; but it would increase the quality of my life, that single act. It would be an honor and a privilege to get a copy of the honorable discharge and pin it up on my wall for myself and my family and my grandkids to see that I served my country in an honorable way.”
While Alexander is still awaiting a decision after receiving help from a pro bono attorney with LSSP, he says that just knowing someone is willing to help him explore his options is a source of encouragement to him, regardless of the outcome.
“I think these attorneys are God-sent,” Alexander says. “I will abide by whatever decision is made, but this means so much to me. My life in and out of drugs was always about me doing this, me fixing this, me giving up. And now, there is someone else who is trying to help me.”