Nursing assistant Tom Alligood wears camouflage scrubs during his emergency room shifts at the Dorn VA hospital because he says it helps other veteran patients realize they’ve “walked over the same dirt,” the 62-year-old former Army tanker says. And he doesn’t just mean the desert sands of Iraq.

Alligood means homelessness, job loss and the mental anguish of being a long-time military veteran trying to adjust to the trials of a dog-eat-dog, backstabbing civilian world he says nearly ate him alive.

“I need to be around veterans like me. That’s where I get my strength, my `positiveness’ from,” says the burly former first sergeant who now sports a long, gray braid on his back.

Alligood says he has found a new mission – working in the sprawling Columbia VA hospital and helping as many of his one-time brothers and sisters in arms as he can.