Johnny Gomez, 50, has been down 21 years, but thanks to being a veteran, he can still help his kids. Gomez’s first parole suitability hearing will be in May 2024.
“My uncle had fought and died as a Marine in Vietnam, so that’s what I wanted to be,” Gomez said. He was 19 when he made the decision to serve, looking for steady work and a better life.
“I didn’t think I was that smart a month into basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego,” Gomez laughed.
His military career was cut short by a back injury suffered during basic training. After six months of treatment, Gomez was sent home to await a final determination and was granted an honorable medical discharge thereafter.
“I qualified for VA benefits, and I needed them — full medical, full dental. I thought that was it,” Gomez said.
San Quentin was where Gomez learned that his honorable medical discharge qualified him and his family for a range of additional benefits.
“We were at a veterans’ banquet, and I was talking to our outside advisor, Shawn,” Gomez said. Shawn Stevens is the advisor for VIP (Veterans Information Project.) When he understood that Gomez had a service-connected disability rating, Stevens went to work.
“Your kids are eligible to attend a California state university — full tuition,” Stevens said.
“I was floored to find out both my kids could benefit but also that I was eligible for certain job training as well,” Gomez said.
It will be years before his release. “I am concentrating on school now. I’m taking PUP (Prison University Project) chemistry with lab. I only need seven more classes to earn my AA at PUP,” Gomez said.
While still years away from a parole suitability hearing, the VA is committed to helping Gomez find housing upon release.
“Shawn went above and beyond for me. He even helped my son fill out the paperwork and explained how he needed to present it to the VA representative at a college,” Gomez said.
If veterans wants to find out if they qualify for additional benefits, they should ask to speak with Mary Donovan of the Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out (VHV) program. The VHV meets on the first and third Thursdays of the month in the ARC building, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
“No matter if currently involved in a group, we will help you,” said Ron Self, VHV’s founder and program developer.
“The VHV plans to work with our veterans on Death Row as well,” Self added. “There are approximately 70 self-identified vets on Death Row, and we want to help them and their families find out if they qualify for any additional VA benefits.”
If an incarcerated veteran wants to learn more about VHV or if they or their family may qualify for additional benefits, please contact:
Mary Donovan, Executive Director of VHV
PO BOX 432
San Quentin, CA 94964
The VHV website is veteranshealingveterans.org