Anthony Smalls never knew life after the Navy could be harder than life in it.
Smalls served in the United States Submarine Service from 1981 through 1996.
But by the next year, after months of unemployment, he was behind bars.
Smalls felt unprepared for life outside the military. The government kicks soldiers out of the armed services with no income, causing them to turn to lives of drugs, alcohol, and crime, which effectively upsets the rest of their lives, he said.
A few months later he was convicted of armed robbery.
Smalls spent the next nine and a half years in various prisons before being released in 2006.
Then it was really hard to get a job.
"It is hard when you first come home from prison," Smalls, 51, said.
In a bid to turn his life around, Smalls earned his master's degree in social work in 2011 from Fordham University in New York and set out to help veterans before they found themselves in the same situation he had been in.
"I felt I could help veterans such as myself come home and readjust so they don't make the same mistakes," Smalls said.
Finally Smalls scored a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. From his own experience he concluded that the VA could be much more effective.
Everyone in administration at the VA isn't actually a veteran, so they aren't able to connect with their clients or figure out ways to help them, according to Smalls.
"I think education is the key," he said of how to keep vets out of prison. "We need to convert the jobs that they were doing in the military over to civilian jobs."
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