Army National Guard Veteran Joseph Harrison got a new start on life thanks to the HUD-VASH program. After leaving service, Harrison faced challenges to getting back on track, including brushes with the law, substance abuse, and difficulty maintaining relationships.
HUD-VASH is the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supported Housing—a joint program between HUD and VA that assists Veterans and their families.
Of the 26 Tribal HUD-VASH programs nationwide, the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, assists Veterans living in the rural areas of North Central and Eastern Washington, the Panhandle of Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana – a 64,000 square mile catchment area. MGVAMC assists Veterans qualifying for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation’s Tribal HUD-VASH program as well as assisting Veterans utilizing tribal HUD-VASH programs for the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene (Idaho), and Nez Perce (Idaho) reservations, respectively.
With help from HUD and VA, Harrison learned to look forward rather than focusing on what’s in the rearview mirror. He now receives mental health care and support from the Spokane VA. He credits his Tribal HUD-VASH case manager, Heidi Stewart, with getting him back on track.
“Thanks to Heidi and VA, my life and outlook are way better now,” he said. “I have so much more in front of me now, including an amazing girlfriend, a beautiful 18-month old son, and another baby on the way.”
Stewart and her colleagues help Native American Veterans like Harrison secure gainful employment, housing, and VA health care. Harrison has even gone back to school and is now studying information technology at Spokane Community College.
Navy Veteran Melissa Richardson described moving to Spokane in the winter and living out of her vehicle—until she met Stewart.
“I never planned to get married and then became homeless with a child,” she said. “If it weren’t for Heidi and HUD-VASH, we would have been forced to live in a storage unit. Heidi found us an apartment. She gave us hope.”
Navy Veteran “Pistol Pete” of the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, described HUD-VASH and Heidi Stewart as blessings.
“Without Heidi, I wouldn’t be here today.”
What tomorrow may bring
HUD’s Office of Native American Programs representative Greg Roe said he’s impressed.
“This is a personally inspiring event—reminding us why we do the work that we do to help Veterans get back on their feet and feel good about themselves and about whatever tomorrow may bring.”
HUD-VASH is one program that provides Veterans with a Continuum of Care. It supports three types of housing: emergency, contract transitional, and permanent. Housing support is part of VA’s Behavioral Health Service. BHS provides Veterans with mental health assistance, substance abuse prevention services and employment support. It works with VA community partners to end Veteran homelessness.
“We are happy to have housing vouchers available for eligible Veterans,” said Dr. Quinn Bastian, chief of BHS. “And we’re honored to serve those with wounds that may not be visible but who are willing to step forward and allow VA to help them.”
For Joseph Harrison and others enrolled in HUD-VASH, letting VA help is not a problem at all. He said he’s looking well into the future with hopes of becoming a cyber operations technician.
“I don’t have a huge support network around me,” Harrison said. “What I do have is a positive outlook, the love of a woman and our child, and I have Heidi to thank for reminding me of the traits so many Vets must carry with us going forward in life: integrity, loyalty, honor, and respect.”
Bret Bowers is a USAF Veteran and public affairs officer at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.