Helping Veterans through the pandemic is one of White River Junction VA‘s primary missions. The Vermont medical center, and partners, recently helped several Veterans access their earned benefits, including helping one find housing stability.

That one is Veteran Donald Surprenant, who served 24 years in the National Guard. In 2018, several years after leaving the Guard, Surprenant became homeless. Because he had never served in combat, he was unsure what resources were available to him through VA. To his surprise, he discovered that he was eligible for the many VA resources and programs available for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

“After becoming homeless, I found out that serving as little as one day, no matter what, you’re considered a Veteran, and I didn’t believe it,” said Surprenant. “VA looked into it and sure enough, I was classified as a Veteran.”

With the help of his case manager, Dan Thompson, he discovered that he was eligible for VA benefits. After temporarily residing at the Open Door Mission for two weeks, he moved to The Veterans’ Place in Northfield, a transitional home for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The Veterans’ Place is a grantee of VA’s Grant and Per Diem program, which funds community organizations that provide services to Veterans experiencing homelessness.

While staying at The Veterans’ Place, Surprenant worked with case manager Tracey Sweeney, who eventually connected him with another case manager, Robert Norris, who worked with him to look for permanent housing. With Norris’ help, Surprenant moved into an apartment in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

“He was trying to find a place to call home, and he discovered that this was available over here in Plymouth,” said Norris. “He checked it out, really liked it, and said he wanted to move in.”

Surprenant’s new apartment is in Boulder Point Veterans Housing, a 30-unit building for which 25 are intended for Veterans transitioning out of homelessness. These apartments are made available through a partnership with White River Junction VAMC and the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.

“You can’t find a better apartment – where it’s around 30% of your income, and you get heat, electricity, a microwave, garbage disposal, washer and dryer all included in the rent,” said Norris. “You can’t beat that anywhere. It is a great place. I wish they had more like it.”

Surprenant has some advice for other Veterans: “Always reach out, because there are people out there that can help you,” he said. “When I got connected with VA in 2018, I met a lot of amazing people that helped me.”

Bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to Veterans’ doors

As COVID-19 vaccines began rolling out at VA facilities across the country in early 2021, Meghan Snitkin, the Homeless Services coordinator at White River Junction, collaborated with a VAMC medical team to figure out how to safely bring vaccines directly to Veterans living at the Boulder Point Veterans Housing complex. He worked with each Veteran resident who wanted to receive it by handing out the education, answering questions about potential reactions, and making sure each Veteran was available on the specific date and time of the vaccination.

“The HUD-VASH nurse on-site, Jeremy Griffths, was trained in administering the vaccine, documentation, etc.,” said Snitkin. “We worked with local EMTs and had one on-site the entire time in case of any adverse reactions.”

Surprenant was one of the many Veterans who received the COVID-19 vaccination without having to leave his apartment complex due to the heavy planning that went into the distribution process.

“The Veterans were extremely grateful to have the vaccine brought directly to them,” said Snitkin. “It was a true honor to be a part of this.”

More information

  • For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit VA’s COVID-19 resource page.
  • Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
  • Subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Shara Katsos is the VISN 1 homeless coordinator, covering Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.

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