MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Colonel Kevin Olson recently retired from the Army after serving 31 years, and now has a passion for helping homeless veterans.
“When I walk by a homeless person I see them,” he said. “For me, it’s a very personal issue.”
Olson’s older brother Greg, a Marine Veteran, was homeless for years.
“He was my hero, he was my protector,” Olson said.
Greg was a star football player and received a scholarship to play at Boys Town High School in Omaha, Nebraska.
“He could have gone to college but he chose, back in 1974, to join the Marines,” Olson said.
Greg was honorably discharged in 1976 and returned to Omaha at the age of 21.
“In my family we have a history of schizophrenia,” Olson said.
Greg was diagnosed with the mental disorder and lived with the condition through the early 1980s.
“We started to see some really strange behavior with him,” Olson said. “He started to drift off and then drift back and not be in the family for a period of years.”
In 1983, Greg drifted away and never returned.
“My family had absolutely no contact with my brother Greg for 26 years,” Olson said.
The family searched for Greg with no success.
Olson went on to have his own career in the military. It was when he was deployed to Basra, Iraq with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division in 2009 that he learned his brother Greg was in Salt Lake City, Utah. Greg had drifted there and was part of that city’s homeless population.
While living on the streets he got sick.
“We speculate that he ate something that wasn’t safe and developed a stomach disorder so severe that he had to go and enter the hospital system there,” Olson said.
Olson credits a hospital chaplain with making sure Greg revealed the name of a family member before he was discharged. A call to an aunt led to Greg being reunited with his sister Lorraine, the first meeting with a member of his family in 26 years.
Olson says he wishes his parents were alive to be a part of the reunion.
“They died not knowing where their son was, so it was a triumph and very bittersweet,” Olson said.
Olson’s trip to see Greg was delayed because he was in a combat zone, being honored with a bronze star.
“When I was reunited with Greg for the first time, I brought that medal with me and in the presence of my family members, in the presence of my sister, my aunt, my uncle — I took my bronze star medal and I pinned it on my brother,” Olson said.
Olson made sure his brother got treatment for his schizophrenia and housing to end his homelessness.
“I have my hero back, and I am so proud, honored and so happy to have Greg back in my life,” Olson said.
Their relationship is now stronger than ever.
Olson hopes to use his experience to help other homeless Veterans find the help and hope they need.
“Homeless veterans are people and they have families that love them, and anything we can do to help our homeless veterans is something that benefits not only that person, but our society as a whole,” Olson said.
Olson now volunteers with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), which doesn’t duplicate any services already available through government veterans benefits. You can donate here.