CHICAGO — He served his country as a medic in the U.S. Army. Now, Christian Garicia is serving his fellow veterans by treating the invisible wounds that can emerge after military life.
"I went to Afghanistan in 2012," Garicia, 25, said, "then I went on a peacetime mission in Africa 2014. I honestly don’t have too many bad things to say, I would do it all over again.”
But like many veterans, Garicia found the transition to civilian life difficult once he finished his tour of duty.
Basic tasks — like setting up electricity and handling moving fees — were daunting.
Garicia had a falling out with his mother shortly after he returned home. He bounced around for several months, sleeping on friends’ sofas and in his car.
During a visit to Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, he told a caseworker he was homeless. The caseworker steered him toward the Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program, or SSVF, at Heartland Alliance. The program helps homeless veterans with food, housing and employment.
Today, Garicia is a case manager for the very same program.
He said his experiences as a military veteran, as well as his personal struggles, serve as inspiration to other veterans looking to get back on their feet.
“In several cases,” he said, “there have been a few guys who come, and I could tell they were feeling the same way I was feeling when I came into the program.”
Garicia helps veterans with resumes, career skills and, most importantly, making sense of their experience. For Garicia, it’s much more than a job.
“I feel like it’s always been my responsibility to help out,” Garicia said. “… It’s just part of what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Christian Garicia is one of Chicago’s Very Own.