Facing foreclosure, unemployment and possible homelessness, Mark Henry reverted back to an old habit: smoking.
Standing in front of his Killeen home recently, Henry, 37, lights a cigarette. He knows it’s not a good habit, especially with the cost of a pack of smokes these days. But smoking calms his nerves.
Exhaling, he looks at the red-brick home on Rambling Range Drive and remembers the joy his family had when they bought the three-bedroom house in 2002. His family — stationed at Fort Hood and living in post housing — would drive by to check on the construction. It was an exciting time for the first-time homebuyers. A lot has happened since.
“Because of the situation, it’s all going to go to the mortgage company,” said Henry, who deployed to Iraq three times, and left the Army in 2011 after 15 years of service.
The foreclosure sale on the three-bedroom home was Sept. 4. It was an event that Henry tried to stop. But like a slow-moving freight train, it had long been approaching, fueled by an unfortunate series of events for the former military family, including war, separation, uncontrollable medical issues and a lackluster civilian job market.
Building a family
Henry joined the Army as an infantryman in 1996, and was stationed in Hawaii. He married his high-school sweetheart, Rachael, and the couple soon began building a family with the birth of their first child. Twelve years ago, Henry was stationed at Fort Hood, and changed his Army occupation to logistics.
The couple lived modestly in post housing before choosing to buy the house in Killeen. While excitement surrounded the purchase of the home, the family began to experience problems that would have lasting effects.
Rachael Henry was diagnosed with endometriosis, a health disorder where cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other areas of the body. Even though she has a degree in education from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, the condition has kept her from finding full-time employment.
Things got worse in 2003, when Mark Henry was deployed with the 4th Infantry Division to Iraq. In the war zone, Mark Henry said he developed a minor case of post-traumatic stress disorder after close calls with mortar attacks and being shot at. He saw friends get injured. Others died.
Perhaps worse, however, was what was happening at home with his young daughter, who was later diagnosed with severe separation anxiety.
“Every time I went on deployments, she got worse,” Mark Henry said. “There was even one incident when I was on my first deployment when she tried to break her own arm.”
When his daughter was 3, she had seen a child with a broken arm whose father, also in the Army, had come home, Mark Henry recalled. Later, his daughter tried to slam a sliding door onto her arm in an effort to bring her daddy home.
“Everybody was saying it was fine — it was just deployment stress,” said Rachael Henry.
But the situation with their daughter worsened, fueled by two more year-long deployments to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
Their oldest daughter had nightmares and came up with plans to travel to Iraq herself to bring her father back home, her parents said.
When she was 8, the girl threatened to kill her mother and commit suicide, Rachael Henry said.
It got so bad, her parents had to put her into a mental health facility for a time, and was the primary reason Mark Henry said he chose to not re-enlist, leaving the Army last year.
Mark Henry had a job lined up working with computers, something he did a lot of in the Army, when he got out of the military in January 2011, but the job fell through.
“Then reality hit,” he said. “The first month goes by with no job. Then the second went by with no job.”
He joined the Army Reserve to bring in extra income and as a way to achieve his pension.
He found out later, however, that if a soldier ends a 20-year career in the Reserve, the pension doesn’t kick in until after the soldier turns 60.
The war veteran did find short-term employment when he got out of the Army: contract computer work with Scott & White Healthcare and elsewhere, but it didn’t last. He has built computer network systems in Iraq, but has no formal degree that translates into the civilian world.
The majority of tech jobs are in Austin or Waco, and due to the family’s medical conditions, they have reason to stay in Killeen, Mark Henry said, and commuting costs too much.
Losing the home
The bills began piling up in 2009. Rachael Henry was attending college, paying for tuition, and the couple’s son was going through medical issues of his own due to lung problems.
It wasn’t too bad at first — $20 short here, slightly behind on an electric bill, $30 short there — but by the time Mark Henry got out of the Army, the family needed steady income to stay afloat. When the job possibilities dried up, so too did the family’s ability to make the mortgage payment.
The mortgage lender, Wells Fargo, started calling for money, the Henrys said. The family tried to work things out, asking for help from Veterans Affairs, extended family and others. But payments were missed or late.
In late May, they were sent a letter from Wells Fargo saying a Dallas law firm would be handling the foreclosure proceedings, and the house would soon be up for auction.
The Henrys said the letter came as a surprise, and Mark Henry said he worked out a plan to make payments on his house with help from relatives. But getting through to the law firm — Brice, Vander Linden & Wernick P.R. — has been nearly impossible, Mark Henry said.
“I’ve managed to talk to a real person once,” he said, adding all that person did was transfer him to a voicemail message that was never returned.
“If the lawyers would have talked to us at any point,” it could have been worked out, Mark Henry said. “Nobody will give us a straight answer.”
The couple said they even called lawyers to deal with the lawyers.
“And one of them said, and I quote, ‘You’re screwed’.” Mark Henry said.
The Killeen Daily Herald called Brice, Vander Linden & Wernick for comment on this story, but the call was not returned.
“As of right now, there is no scheduled eviction,” said Jim Hines, a Wells Fargo spokesperson. He said the home was not sold during the foreclosure sale, and the bank is working with the family on various options, including “relocation assistance.”
Hines said Wells Fargo regularly works to provide relief for service members. He said he had no information on why the law firm did not reply to the Henrys’ questions.
Navigating through automated answering services and wading through barrels of red tape has not been easy, the Henrys said, but they are used to it.
“And you can never talk to the same person twice,” said Rachael Henry, adding her family is on food stamps, Medicare and other government welfare. Mark Henry has been off and on unemployment benefits.
It’s all a far cry from the family’s good financial health in 2004, when Mark Henry re-enlisted and netted a $40,000 bonus from the Army. The family paid off old loans, and things were looking good for a time. But with more deployments and medical issues piling up, things progressively got worse.
“If you’re looking for one word, it would be ‘uncertainty’,” Rachael Henry said, describing the last 10 years.
The couple said Wells Fargo did contact them recently, and there is discussion on how the foreclosure will develop. If Mark Henry can secure a decent-paying job or the bank accept the Henrys’ offer of paying the mortgage with the help of relatives, then the family may be able to keep the house.
But where will the family live if an eviction notice does come? It’s a question the Henrys can’t answer. We’re on the “brink of homelessness,” Rachael Henry said.
“One of our family mottos is ‘Nothing is ever easy’,” Mark Henry said. “But, really, it shouldn’t be this hard, either.”
Dealing with deployment
Repeated war deployments have taken a toll on many families in the area.
“Yes, it’s a very big issue,” said Christina Radner, a licensed psychologist and Army spouse.
The separation that comes with a year-long deployment can, in some cases, lead to anxiety issues and even negative opinions about the military. It is difficult for both the soldier who is deployed and the family at home, said Radner, who works for Campbell & Associates, a therapy firm in Harker Heights that treats many military and ex-military families.
For children, who sometimes fail to grasp why a military parent has to leave for such a long time, the separation can lead to rough adjustments when the deployment ends. “Some get angry, cling to dad, or push him away,” said Radner, adding a support system — both at home and abroad — is vital.
“Some kids do quite well,” she said, while others may need a lot of help dealing with the issues that come with deployment. “The kids are all affected differently, some more than others.”
The same goes for soldiers in a war zone: Two soldiers can experience the same thing, and one develops post-traumatic stress disorder, and the other does not, said Radner.
While deployed soldiers may be dodging bullets and watching friends die, families are dealing with the absence of a parent while everything else remains constant: bills, school, chores, etc. “The separation is hard on them both,” said Radner.
Coping with the adjustments following a deployment is key, and a return to normalcy does take time, she said.
Mark Henry isn’t the only unemployed veteran in Texas. More than 66,000 veterans — accounting for about 7.2 percent of the veterans in the workplace — were unemployed in the state last year, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That’s slightly less than the overall 7.9 percent unemployment in Texas in 2011.
In 2001, there were 33,000 unemployed veterans in Texas, which was 3.3 percent of all veterans in the workforce at the time.
While the state does not keep statistics of exactly how many unemployed veterans are in each county, more than 5,500 veterans applied for unemployment benefits in Bell County last year, according to Texas Workforce Commission.
Contact Jacob Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468