When This Marine Machine Gunner Came Home From Vietnam Blind, He Almost Became Another Veteran Statistic

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When Dennis Cadigan returned from Vietnam, a Marine machine gunner blinded by an enemy booby trap and addicted to his pain medication, he almost became just another veteran statistic. 

His dependency on pain medication quickly led to a full blown heroin addiction and Cadigan was on a dark path.

It isn't hard to imagine him becoming one of the 300,000 veterans who live on the streets or in a shelter on any given night in the U.S.  Or one of the thousands of veterans who continue to suffer from drug addiction and substance abuse. 

But Cadigan was lucky and determined. He had friends and family who helped him clean up, and a drive that enabled him to succeed. He eventually created Phoenix Woodworks, a company he hopes to build and share ownership in with other disabled veterans. 

For many veterans, however, increasingly those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the story can end very differently. 

From 2002 to 2005 prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel and then tripled between 2005 and 2008. And the rates of abuse are higher among military than civilian populations, 11% and 5% respectively.

Drug addiction is only one challenge veterans face. One in seven homeless adults are veterans. 30.2 percent of young veterans (aged 18-24) are unemployed and nearly 10 percent of veterans with disabilities were not employed in 2010.

Overall, almost a million veterans between the ages of 18 to 64 had been living in poverty in 2010 and 1.2 million used mental health services. 

The numbers can seem discouraging but stories like Cadigan's tell a different tale. One of hope and opportunity. Now, Cadigan's two biggest challenges are finding other veterans to work in the company and securing more funding and space to increase production.
 

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