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|Santa Monica Agency Turn's Vet's Life Around|
By Jason Islas
Third in a series of articles
June 22, 2012 -- When army veteran Vernon Randolph was diagnosed with AIDs in Texas 27 years ago, his family and friends shunned him. Even the doctor who diagnosed him seemed to have little sympathy.
He asked Randolph, who is now 58 and a client of Common Ground in Santa Monica, whether he got the disease through drugs or through homosexual sex, though he used far less polite language.
“There was a big stigma (about AIDS) in Texas,” Randolph said. “The way they was treating me really haunted me.”
Even his mother and sisters turned their backs on him, he said. “They didn't understand. All they knew was that there was this disease and people were dying from it.”
“They didn't want me coming around no more,” Randolph said. “My family was worried they would catch it.”
AIDS has become a far more familiar disease than it was in 1985, and California is a world away from Texas, but there is still a need for a support system that Common Ground officials say the agency helps to fill.
The non-profit, which is moving from Bay Street to Cedar Street, was started in 1992 as the Santa Monica AIDS Project. And while many of the agency's new neighbors have resisted the move, clients say the agency that helps those with trouble accessing health care has changed their lives.
“I owe my whole life to that place,” Randolph said as his grandson, whom he regularly babysits, was napping. “I truly believe I would have no life without them.”
After being diagnosed in Texas, Randolph headed out to California, where his ex-wife and daughter lived and where he hoped he could find more understanding.
He started receiving treatment at the Veteran Affairs hospital in Westwood, but soon became disillusioned because they had no counseling at the time.
Randolph not only had a terminal illness, he had been sexually assaulted while he was in the military. The VA, he said, was not equipped to help him with the trauma of both.
“I didn't feel like going anyplace," he said. "I was just going to get through this by myself.”
But things took a turn for the worse. “I was a mess,” Randolph admitted.
He was moving from place to place, sleeping on couches, and using drugs.
After several years of drug use and waking up screaming in the night
from recurring nightmares, his daughter – a social worker – finally
insisted that he go to Common Ground.
“Once I went, I cried on (my case worker's) shoulder,” he said. Common Ground “stabilized me,” Randolph said, adding that he was able to eat better because of the food program. He also learned how to get his disease under control and stop beating up on himself.
“I can't believe my life today," he said, as he approaches his third year sober. "I can really hold my head up and be myself.”
Randolph currently lives with his daughter and grandson and wants to be around them "all the tine."
He'll even be going back to Texas for a family reunion this summer, after rekindling a relationship with his mother, who better understands the disease he struggles with, Randolph said.
“I wish no one has to travel in my shoes, but if they do, I hope they can find a place like Common Ground,” he said.
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