Josh White has faced difficulties that few will ever know. He served a tough tour of military service in Iraq where his Humvee took a direct hit, fought the night terrors of PTSD, and battled depression and addictions through the years readjusting to life in a civilian world that he says has no rules or structure for war veterans.
But none of it compares to the moment three weeks ago when he stared helplessly at the last $2 in his hand and feeling a complete failure.
He remembers looking at his wife in bed that night and apologizing.
“The last thing I remember feeling that night was complete emptiness and embarrassment. There was nothing else.”
Just two hours before, Josh did something extraordinary. He’d given their last $2 away.
Josh and Brandi White
Things had never been easy during Josh’s return to civilian life. But he’d persisted enough to get his life headed back on track. He’d been drug-free more than a year, re-established a relationship with his ex-wife, gone from homeless to having a nice three-bedroom home, landed a job with the city maintenance department, and the family now had two new working vehicles.
“I felt like we’d really turned the corner in so many ways,” he said.
When an injury prevented Josh from working earlier this year, the family’s financial situation was tight again, but nothing ever challenged Josh like the Veteran’s Administration letter he received on May 18.
The VA claimed he’d violated the conditions of a felony release from years ago and ruled to terminate his benefits immediately. The ruling caught him completely off guard, especially because of his involvement with a local program that helps keeps veterans on the right side of the law, and he’d been faithful to the program.
“There was no way it could be right, but it was a government agency’s word against mine, so what are you going to do?” he said. “It was devastating.”
As the bills quickly grew, Josh’s biggest burden became not knowing how to provide his family with the basic necessities. “I remember looking up one day and just saying, ‘Lord, I have nowhere to go.'”
Through his most difficult times with PTSD, Josh said he never questioned his faith in God, but would sometimes wonder what he’d done to deserve so many tough breaks. “I knew I wasn’t doing all the things I needed to do, and going to church and being active in church was one of them,” he said.
“I just remember looking up one day and saying, ” ‘Lord, I have nowhere to go.’ “
As they realized the desperate nature of their situation, Josh’s wife looked at him one Wednesday afternoon and said, “Looks to me like we ought to be back in church.” He agreed.
“When we pulled into the parking lot that night, I reached into my pocket and found the $2, looked at Brandi, and said, ‘This is it. That’s all there is.’ And we made the decision right there to give it to the church. I just said a quick prayer and said, ‘Lord, bless this and bless it abundantly.’ And we gave it away and that was that. We were broke.”
The next four days were some of the most difficult the young family had faced.
“My only thought was I’m not going to be able to take care of my family, where is my next dollar going to come from, where is my family’s next meal going to come from? I was injured, depressed, mentally exhausted and couldn’t stop wondering what I’d done to deserve all this. But I can honestly say the night we gave the money away I gave that situation to God and completely turned it over to Him. There was nothing else I could do. I was empty, and genuinely crying out to God.”
Five days later Josh received another letter from the VA and a local senator that read just as shockingly as the first.
The agency made a mistake in its ruling against Josh, the letter said, and found cause to award him $43,000 in cash benefits. When Josh checked his online bank account the records showed a direct deposit made less than six hours after he’d given the $2 to his church.
His first thought (and fear) was there had been some terrible mistake, so he immediately fought through the maze of bureaucracy and automated telephone voice prompts to clear the confusion. When someone finally came on the line, Josh told them the money wasn’t his.
“The lady on the other end of the line said she couldn’t explain the money, and saw no real reason for it, but also could find no reason the agency should reclaim it. She even went and got her supervisor and the only advice they could offer after a long time was that we should use the money to pay our outstanding debts.
“You can imagine all the things running through my mind at that moment,” he said.
The family has since paid $18,000 in debt and eliminated a $2,000 loan taken to pay monthly bills last May, and they’re using the unforeseen circumstances to start a new life.
“We never lost faith during the whole time. It wasn’t easy and I’ve had my share of shortcomings, but we never lost our faith. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to explain the money.”