Skeptical VA finds support through homeless program

Gary East didn’t have a good impression of VA. Upon returning from six years as a radio and computer mechanic in the military, he found that it did not provide him with adequate support for the transition to civilian life.

East’s impression was formed in 1988, the same year the Department of Veterans Affairs Act was signed, but a year before the transformational legislation took effect. With this act, President Ronald Regan declared the VA a cabinet-level department, which expanded its authority to provide greater benefits to federal-level veterans.

In 1989, Ed Derwinski became the VA’s first secretary. He outlined his vision: “I consider that the new Department has a vital mission. In fact, it’s so vital that there’s only one place for America’s veterans: in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.

East, on the other hand, was in a different place – his home state of Ohio, where he would experience intermittent homelessness for the next 34 years.

A Son’s Request: Giving VA a Second Chance

East has become a skilled survivalist. He learned where to take refuge on the Ohio shore and how to trade scrap metal for food and necessities. Although he sometimes stayed with friends and family, he enjoyed his independence. After a few weeks of their hospitality, he still insisted on getting back to his routine.

East’s son had encouraged him to seek VA help for years. Still, East dismissed the idea, recalling his early encounters. Finally, in January 2021, a combination of challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic led him to reconsider.

Her son made the first call to the Cincinnati VA Medical Center where staff described services available to homeless veterans. He passed this on to his father, urging him to explore a system that seemed genuinely determined to help. Eventually, East agreed to visit VA with his son, but he made no promises.

Fully furnished apartment that he is happy to call home

Almost immediately, VA connected East with housing through its Grant and Per-Diem program with Volunteers of America, a nonprofit that has served vulnerable Americans for more than 123 years. Six months later, VA located and fully furnished an apartment for him. It’s a place he’s happy to call home today.

VA’s ability to provide East with the various resources he needed to transition to safe, permanent housing was made possible through the Johnny Isakson Veterans Health Care and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2020. and David P. Roe. Section 4201 of this act authorizes VA to use appropriate resources from funds for homeless veterans and those enrolled in the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program throughout the health emergency. public COVID-19.

This legislation has been instrumental in providing homeless veterans with vital services. East reflects on the impact of the funding saying, “I have a warm, dry place to sleep that doesn’t move. I can manage.”

East enjoys his weekly visit with his HUD-VASH social worker, Seerat Bahniwal, which he recognizes as essential in helping him maintain his independence. Bahniwal uses Section 4201 as a tool to keep veterans in the East and others in the region from going hungry.

VA help over the past year has encouraged East to explore other benefits he’s earned. And while he looks forward to continuing to receive services through VA, his goals go far beyond his own care.

“Go to VA. There is a program for you.

A year ago, if East had known he would soon have his own apartment stocked with a steady supply of nutritious food, he might not have believed it. If he had heard that such changes had been introduced by VA, he certainly would not have believed it. As he reflects on improving his situation, he reminds us that with the right support, anything is possible. This is a truth for individuals and organizations.

East hopes other veterans will follow his example.

“Go to VA. I’m telling you, there’s a program for you,” East said. He feels responsible for guiding his peers who are experiencing similar difficulties towards the same results. “I’m going to help the veterans,” he said.

VA works tirelessly to ensure that no individual who has served their country is homeless. We wholeheartedly agree with East that we all need to end veteran homelessness.

Learn more about VA programs

  • Learn more about how Authority 4201 helps VA provide flexible assistance to homeless veterans.
  • Learn more about the HUD-VASH program to determine if you are eligible to receive rental assistance.
  • Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless should contact the National Veterans Homelessness Call Center at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
  • Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn more about housing initiatives and other programs for veterans coming out of homelessness.
  • For more stories like these, visit the HPO website and subscribe to the Office of Homelessness Programs newsletter to receive monthly updates on programs and support services for veterans who are homeless or at risk.

Ryan H. Bowman