Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
April 2015 Veteran Spotlight on Alcohol
Phil Wilkinson thought he might have an alcohol problem while in the Navy. Whatever he did off-duty seemed to involve alcohol. He told himself it was just how he coped with stress and the problem would go away once out of the Navy. He now laughs and says, “I was fooling myself.”
After his Navy service, Phil worked as an auto parts dealer, but his life continued to revolve around alcohol. He says, “I was a working alcoholic.” However, this didn’t last long. He eventually lost two marriages, his job and a place to live because of alcohol.
Phil went through treatment in 1995, but only “to get people off my back.” He had not yet admitted that he had a problem. He returned to drinking after treatment and his life continued to spiral downward. He went from drinking for enjoyment to drinking out of necessity.
In 2006, he found himself broke and homeless in Phoenix, Arizona. Another alcoholic woke Phil up at 6 am and told him it was his turn to buy liquor. Phil finally had enough. He called his father and asked for help. His father sent a bus ticket back to Missouri, and helped Phil get into Truman VA’s Addiction Treatment Program. This time, Phil went through treatment for himself.
Thinking back, Phil realizes he had to get to the point where he was willing to ask for help from family members and VA providers. Once he accepted that he was powerless over alcohol, his recovery began. The first year was tough, but he began to notice all the little pleasures in life he had missed during his years of alcohol dependence. He has been sober since 2006.
Now Phil helps other Veterans with alcohol problems. He is one of three Peer Support Specialists in the Truman VA Behavioral Health Service. Phil states, “Veterans are proud people. It can be hard for them to ask for help.” He adds, “Because I am a recovering alcoholic and a Veteran, they find it easy to talk to me.” Phil doesn’t lecture or tell Veterans they have a problem. Instead, he helps them consider how alcohol is affecting their lives, lets them know their options and, then, leaves it up to them. If Veterans are ready to do something about their drinking, Phil helps them get the help they need. He also leads peer support groups in which Veterans help each other overcome problems like alcohol abuse.
Phil is grateful he finally asked for help to overcome his alcohol problem. He now enjoys a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, he paints landscapes and he achieved his “impossible dream,” to own a Harley-Davison motorcycle. Yet, the best part is being a role model for recovery and helping Veterans overcome their own alcohol problems.
Phil wants Veterans to know “If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, than perhaps you do, but it’s up to you to find out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Call Truman VA’s Behavioral Health Service at 573-814-6486 to talk to a peer support specialist or an alcohol counselor.
To learn more about how alcohol can affect your health, visit