Today, veteran Elden Branch spends much of his time playing bass guitar and relaxing on the beach in Pensacola, Florida. Such an idyllic retreat seems surreal at times to Branch, whose life was very different not so long ago.
From 1984 to 1990, Branch served in the military, overseeing air defense operations with short-range surface-to-air missiles. During his service he suffered knee and back injuries. After his separation, the physical strength he had worked so hard to develop and maintain in the military seemed to evaporate overnight.
He remembers a time when his mother fell and he was not strong enough to help her get up. He felt helpless and, as his physical condition deteriorated permeating his mental well-being, he felt hopeless. “Nothing mattered,” he recalls.
Branch barely recognized himself when his identity and sense of purpose disappeared. Unfortunately, his accommodation too.
Swept His Feet With VA ‘Lifeline’ Programs
Branch didn’t consider himself homeless at first, as he slept in his car or on friends’ couches. He was just grateful to have shelter.
Yet, as his health problems worsened, he could no longer delay seeking care. Visit your local VA in Denver, Colorado, Branch was “ripped off at his feet.” Although he initially sought support for his physical health, a VA staff member learned about his life situation and put him in touch with the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, which he describes as a “lifeline”.
HUD-VASH staff ensured that Branch had temporary accommodation before helping her find a permanent home.
“They got me something right away,” he said. “It was almost a miracle.”
Expansion with the HUD-VASH program
With the help he received from VA, Branch reassessed what he wanted with his life. He decided to continue his lifelong love of music by moving to Florida, where a close friend and fellow musician lived. For years, Branch had dreamed only of living the paradise described by his friend. Now, it was time for him to branch out, start fresh and rediscover the pleasure of playing music for others.
VA wasted no time in helping Branch settle in Florida. The HUD-VASH team at Gulf Coast of Virginia Health Care System Quickly helped him find accommodation and obtain furniture thanks to 90 works, a Florida-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals overcome homelessness and poverty.
When he found the apartment he now calls home, VA paid Branch’s bond. Without the help of her HUD-VASH team, Branch admits that obtaining her apartment “would have been impossible.”
In addition to the deposit for her apartment, the continued improvement in Branch’s quality of life is in large part thanks to the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, MD Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (Public Law 116-315), section 4201 (a).
Section 4201 authorizes VA to use funds allocated for homeless veterans and those enrolled in the HUD-VASH program during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Section 4201 enabled VA to purchase items otherwise inaccessible to Branch that serve to significantly alleviate the variety of health issues it continues to struggle with, including sleep apnea. The clearance also helped him get a comfortable mattress and extra batteries for his CPAP machine, batteries he badly needed when Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast in August 2021.
While he describes the benefits of a good night’s sleep on his physical and mental health, Branch urges other veterans not to sleep over their chance to receive VA help.
“If you were in the military, you deserved it”
Branch hopes his experience with the VA encourages other veterans to seek help. “All of this made me very proud to have served,” he said. “Thanks to everyone who has something to do with this. It exceeded my expectations.
Citing her initial reluctance to receive VA benefits, Branch understands the discomfort others may feel when asking for help. He reminds his veteran colleagues: “Receiving help is not a pride. If you were in the military, you deserved it. You have done a good thing for your country. It is time to reap the rewards, ”he added.
Learn more about VA programs
- Learn more about how the 4201 authority helps VA provide flexible assistance to homeless veterans.
- Learn more about the HUD-VASH program to determine if you are eligible for housing assistance.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans 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 Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates on programs and support services for homeless and at-risk veterans.