No one knows for sure how many military veterans are living alone in the vast wilderness of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. One thing is certain, however – Cheri Tinker won't let this country's heroes suffer in isolation. While she can do something about it, these men won't spend their life after service alone.
It's been more than a decade since Tinker decided to make helping veterans in the peninsula her mission in life. She told her local Fox station that some of the men she finds leave to escape from society. Others have severe psychological issues that were never treated after returning from conflicts overseas.
"There's a guy that has been out in the woods in Hoh since 1972," she said. "When I met him, he was living off barnacles. Off barnacles! This thin little wisp of a man with a straggly beard. He was a Navy Corpsman at 18. He was on a boat right off Vietnam and they were bringing all those injured and dead soldiers onto his boat. He saw such horror – I can't even imagine."
TInker's efforts took off in 2009 when Sen. Patty Murray helped her secure $500,000 to establish Sarge's Place, a transitional shelter for homeless veterans.
One former Marine who spent time at Sarge's Place following tours of Iraq and Afghanistan told Fox that his life was in utter disarray when the VA put him in touch with Tinker. "I was not in a good place," he said. "And to tell you straight up, I'm glad she was there because I couldn't have done it without her."
It was also in Washington state that Pierce College was recently named the thirteenth best community college for veterans in the country, based on factors that evaluate how good a school is for veterans and their families.
Efforts of both Cheri Tinker and Pierce College suggest that Washington is eager to help veterans as best they can.