From Colonel and Pentagon Aide to Homeless

From Colonel and Pentagon Aide to Homeless photo by Marlith

After serving his country for decades, Col. Robert Freniere now finds himself homeless. Unfortunately, his story is far from unique.

Originally appeared on ThinkProgress

By Alan Pyke

People who spend three decades in the U.S. military before retiring from the Pentagon at the rank of colonel are not supposed to end up living in a van and unable to find even a menial job to provide the kind of basic income that might save them from from homelessness. Yet that’s where retired Air Force Col. Robert Freniere finds himself in now, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Julie Zauzmer.

Freniere enlisted in the Army just after the Vietnam War ended, transferring to the Air Force shortly thereafter. A quarter-century and four combat zones of service later, he’d risen far enough through the ranks to be pulled into the Pentagon. In 2002, he began to serve as an assistant to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was already one of the top officials in the U.S. armed forces and who would go on to be the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan beforeresigning after making unprofessional remarks about President Obama to reporters.

After a few years working for McChrystal, Freniere retired in 2006. Finding work was hard. Debts amassed during his career — some personal, others relating to his two children in college — meant that his $40,000 annual pension from the Air Force didn’t make ends meet.

“His struggle to find a job after retiring from the Air Force collided with the end of his marriage nearly two years ago,” Zauzmer reports, and “he took up a nomadic existence.” Freniere says that dyslexia and attention deficit disorder make his six hours of daily job searching on public library computers both painstaking and slow. He hasn’t even been able to find janitorial work.

His story is very far from unique. There are tens of thousands of U.S. military veterans who are homeless. By the latest count, there were 57,849 homeless veterans in 2013, a staggering total that is nonetheless part of a positive, downward trend in total homelessness among veterans. (The nearly 58,000 veterans sleeping on the streets last year represents a 24 percent decrease compared to 2009.) The Obama administration has pledged to end homelessness among veterans by 2015 — something Phoenix, Arizona has just achieved a year ahead of schedule — and committed funds to back that promise. The Department of Veterans Affairs said in November that it will spend another $14 million to address homelessness among former servicemen and women, bringing the total spending on that problem up to nearly $22 million. Sadly, homelessness is just one of the many major economic difficulties that face veterans as they exit the services and return to civilian life.

Reducing chronic homelessness among veterans by a quarter in four years is no small thing, but in order to hit Obama’s 2015 goal for eradicating the problem, “the pace will have to pick up substantially in the next 24 months,” as Scott Keyes has noted. Few of those 58,000 stories will be told in a major newspaper, and even that publicity offers no guarantee that Freniere will be able to unpack his van anytime soon.

Photo by -Marlith-/Flickr


AlanPyke_108x108About the author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.


  1. The problem is relative. $40K sounds reasonable in terms of pension to me, although as a serviceman from the UK I’m unqualified to make statements on the US pension system. This gentleman has found himself in a situation that he was not prepared for and has been unable to cope. Before retirement his overheads were possibly only just covered by his full salary, and thus on a reduced pension, could not make ends meet.

    His situation is therefore little different to a homeless private in the same situation. His background is, frankly, neither here nor there.

  2. How is 40K not enough ?
    I’m in the top of my carreer as a 31yo and I earn 36K before taxes. Median is around 26K.

  3. He has a defined benefit pension of $40,000 per year. Living outdoors with no rent while you pay off your kids’ student loans is maybe not such a troubling decision. Maybe he squirrels some of that $40,000 each year away into an emergency account for food when the shelters, pantries, and soup kitchens are closed.

  4. I think you chose the wrong person to get your point across. This man resigned/retired after the remarks he made. It’s not that he was a victim of losing his job for something beyond his control. Something is wrong when someone goes from working in the Pentagon to not being able to get a janitor job. Something is fishy here. Perhaps mental illness is his problem. Even so, as someone who is retired from the military, he has access to mental health care. I’m not feeling sorry for ANYONE who gets a pension of 40k a year and cannot make ends meet. This does not even begin to explain the homeless problem of vets. This person is not the face of a homeless vet. This person has an income but did not make good choices with his money. There are homeless vets out there with no income and no family to speak of.

    • PursuitAce says:

      I think you are right but for different reasons. His boss made the remarks not him. The article muddles that a little bit. And as a retired Colonel he makes more like 70K a year not 40K. On top of that he gets free medical. Agreed he’s not the best example to use in the case for veterans.

    • The person that resigned was not Col. Robert Freniere it was General Stanley McChrystal. Re-read the article.

  5. Tsach Gilboa says:

    This situation is a disgrace. If we as a nation choose to ask these men and women to serve and put their lives & well being in harms way, we have an obligation to take care of them and make sure they fare well after their service. Although it is heartwarming that we have outside organizations that provide some assistance with the public’s voluntary support, it is the responsibility of our government, the one that makes the decisions to engage in wars and various activities involving our armed forces for economic, political national security and ideological reasons to serve our veterans.

  6. Tom Brechlin says:

    After doing a little research, it appears that the numbers of homeless veterans is much higher. National coalition of the homeless says it’s more like 130,000 to 200,000. It also appears that much of what is being done is through outside organizations.

    That’s why the recent budget deal that cuts military retiree benefits by $6 billion dollars is a problem, don’t ya think?

    How many of these veterans are retirees?

    But then again. homelessness in general has hit men the most and we don’t see much happening.


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