No one in her family knew Susan, and Army veteran, was homeless. In March, the NVF Outreach Team met her in a parking lot where she was living in her car to begin the process of getting her into a transitional housing program. Susan had deployed from an Army base in Louisiana to Afghanistan. During her deployment her baby boy lived with her parents in California.
When she separated from the Army, Susan’s parents urged her to come home and live with them in California. It would be easier on her son not to uproot him again. She could live with them, get into school, restart her life. It sounded good, so she left her friends and community and moved back home.
Transitioning from the military, parenting a two-year-old, going to school and especially living with her parents as an adult was tougher than she thought it would be. Susan parents tried to be supportive of her transition after serving in the combat zone, this person who seemed so different than the young woman who left to join the Army. In the end they just couldn’t bridge the gap. Susan’s parents didn’t have the tools to understand and deal with what she was going through. Daily conflict was affecting her son, so she told her family she was moving out with a friend nearby, but really began sleeping in her car.
She would wake up early drive to her parents’ home each morning to take her son to daycare, then pick him up at the end of her school day and spend the evenings with him until bedtime.
Service-related disability entitled her to some help from the VA, but her GI Bill benefits have not been paid since February. Kristine Hesse, the NVF’s women vet coordinator, worked with her to straighten out her tuition payments and find housing.
However, after an extremely difficult time providing one more in a long chain of document for her GI Bill package, this young vet gave up in frustration. A caseworker from PATH—a family of agencies working together to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities—stepped in and persuaded HUD to accept a letter explaining her GI Bill situation in lieu of the actual form. Here is a brief recap of her situation with the VA:
- The VA stopped paying her GI Bill benefits in February, perhaps because someone dropped the ball when she switched from the GI Bill to Vocational Rehabilitation.
- The financial aid/vet support person at her school has not received any documents about what program she is in, nor has the VA responded to multiple queries.
- The VA outreach worker who serviced the campus is no longer there and the new person has not come to the school yet.
- To complicate matters further, this young veteran has not been able to reach anyone at the toll-free number for GI Bill questions.
Working on her behalf are the NVF, a PATH caseworker, a Vet Center counselor and a VA rep. All this support is not the norm. Even though our veteran is so close to the finish line, it is hard for her to see it.
What looks to us like the lack of a single document between her and success, looks like yet another insurmountable roadblock to her. Many like her simply give up, thinking it is easier to live on the streets,
What is ahead for Susan? Once HUD accepts her package, she can look for a place, submit her paperwork to the landlord and the housing authority will set up an inspection. But the timeline is based on how soon HUD finalizes her voucher and schedules the inspection of her place. It could be weeks more… It is a challenging process, the transition back to civilian life. Many vets like her served in good faith, have filled out the forms, ticked the boxes…and still they wait. It’s no wonder there’s a crisis of hope.
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The worst part of war should not be coming home.