VA North Texas Health Care System
Homeless Veteran: “People at VA Believed in Me"
VA North Texas works to get homeless Veterans off the street and back on their feet.
Homeless Veteran: "I Came To VA and Found People Who Believed in Me."
Air Force Veteran Raymond Crowder knows that, in the minds of many, the thought of a homeless person conjures up images of someone who is disheveled, addicted, and destitute. Crowder admits he struggled through many dark days, but with the help of VA North Texas Health Care System (VANTHCS), he was able to turn his life around and now prides himself on helping other Veterans.
"VA played a major part in getting me back on track," said 71-year-old Crowder. "Without Ms. Stringer, I might have not made it to where I am today."
That’s Social Worker Cheryl Stringer at VA North Texas Health Care System who works to get homeless Veterans off the street and back on their feet.
"I think Mr. Crowder’s story is amazing," said Stringer. "I feel really fortunate to have witnessed his transformation and success. He overcame a great many hurdles; both physical and mental."
Crowder’s path to recovery started by first humbling himself and admitting he needed help.
"Life just threw me too much to handle and I gave up, but I had too much pride to ask anyone for help," said Crowder.
After two bouts of cancer and other serious health issues, Crowder lost his well-paying job and was consumed with hospital debt and depression. Turning to alcohol and drugs, he wound up living on the streets for about three years. A friend told Crowder about VA’s Healthcare for Homeless Veterans Program which attempts to reduce homelessness among Veterans by reaching out to those who are the most vulnerable and engaging them in supportive and rehabilitative services. When a Veteran enters the program, a comprehensive individual assessment is performed by the staff.
"This assessment helps determine the next best step for the Veteran," said Stringer. "It may be the Veteran has a mental health or substance abuse problem and may benefit from residential substance abuse treatment or behavioral health services."
After Crowder’s initial assessment, a comprehensive treatment plan was developed to address his treatment goals.
"I walked in, on my own, and I told them I was in a bad shape and needed a place to live and a job," said Crowder. "Ms. Stringer took the time to find out all about me, hooked me up with a doctor who diagnosed my PTSD and bipolar disease, and referred me to the IT program."
VA’s Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program, which includes Incentive Therapy (IT), Sheltered Workshop, Transitional Work and Vocational Assistance, Supported Employment and Post-Employment Supports, and Transitional Residence, provides realistic and meaningful vocational opportunities to Veterans; encouraging successful reintegration into the community at the Veterans' highest functional level.
CWT helps Veterans who have not had a job in a while to work on things like showing up on time, keeping a schedule, having a boss, and having to wear a uniform every day, said Stringer. The program is invaluable to the Veterans we serve.
Crowder was also plugged into the Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program where a Veteran participates in case management with a VA social worker in regards to housing. From there, if eligible, they receive a voucher subsidizing their rent from a housing authority. The Veteran pays 30 percent of their income toward the rent. The housing is considered to be a permanent as long as the Veteran continues to qualify financially and participates in case management.
"Ms. Stringer let me know that, as a homeless Veteran, I would be eligible for a housing voucher through HUD-VASH Program," said Crowder. "I have never trusted anyone more than Ms. Stringer; she believed in me."
"With 1,200 HUD-VASH housing vouchers and a 96.3 percent lease rate, I absolutely think we have made a positive change in the lives of a significant number of Veterans by providing a stable living environment for them," said VANTHCS Director Jeff Milligan. "Once they have a stable place to live, they have time to address other things that may be going on in their lives like mental health or family issues, education, and job training. Being off of the streets or out of a shelter can make a big difference."
Today with a treatment plan in place for his physical and mental health issues, VA disability increased, and social security issues resolved, Crowder spends his time helping other struggling Veterans. His daughter and his granddaughters now live with him, and he is thankful for these strong family relationships.
"I hope that one Veteran is going to read this article and say 'Let me go down to VA and see if I can get some help,'" said Crowder. "Because I did, I found the support I needed and people who really cared about what happened to me."
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