When Army Veteran Ronald Probst was going through a difficult time that left him without a home, he wasn’t initially aware that he was eligible for VA benefits, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program. Having completed his military service in 1983, he assumed his VA benefits had expired. Later, after contacting VA for help, he learned that he was still eligible for VA assistance, which helped him weather a difficult storm in his life.
For nearly 30 years after finishing his military service, Probst had a solid career as a truck driver. His daughter had some personal challenges while caring for her five children, so Probst quit his job and went across the state to provide her with support during a difficult time.
Two weeks after his arrival, disaster struck in the form of a flood. “The house they had was on a river and it flooded,” he said. “She lost everything.”
Having quit his job, Probst struggled to help his daughter and grandchildren with their living expenses and stay on top of his own bills. He managed to get them motel rooms and helped however else he could. Then his daughter’s personal challenges led to her being separated from her children
Now responsible for caring for his five grandchildren, Probst came down with pneumonia for several months and nearly died. Unemployed, ill and on a fixed income, he was forced to sell his house to help pay for the motel stays as well as his care.
Probst’s ex-wife cared for the children while he was recovering. When asked if he tried using VA services during this time, he admitted that “I never used VA. I didn’t think I needed it and I didn’t realize I still had it.”
“Why aren’t you using your VA benefits?”
After Probst returned to his hometown, he had nowhere to go but a local emergency shelter where he volunteered as a cook. The director asked why he wasn’t taking advantage of his VA benefits to get back on his feet. Probst believed he had waited too long and that he would no longer be eligible. But he decided to look into what VA could offer.
VA was able to set Probst up with a case manager through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program. It’s a collaborative program that combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to make market rate housing affordable for Veterans.
Through this program, case managers provide support services to Veterans for things such as health care, mental health treatment and substance use counseling to prevent future homelessness.
Probst was grateful when his case manager helped him find an apartment using rental assistance through the HUD-VASH program.
Then 2021 brought its own unique challenges that couldn’t have been expected.
When an unprecedented heat wave hit the Pacific Northwest in July 2021, Probst’s apartment thermostat read 120°. He put cold packs on to cool down. The apartments didn’t have air conditioning and he had heard about neighbors passing out and being sent to the hospital. He began to fear for his safety.
Probst’s Case Manager, Christine Eddy, called to check on him and let him know that VA now had the ability to buy him an air conditioning unit. The unit arrived and cooled him down and regulated his breathing.
VA able to assist with basic necessities
VA’s response was made possible by the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020. It gives VA permission to buy basic necessities for Veterans, which wasn’t previously possible.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Congress asked us what statutory flexibilities were needed in order to fully respond to the emergency and ensure that homeless Veterans were safe,” said Dr. Keith Harris, director of Clinical Operations, VHA Homeless Programs Office. “The Act gives VA life-saving flexibilities to directly provide food, shelter, supplies and other support to homeless Veterans. To date, VA has provided this assistance to thousands of homeless Veterans, preventing the spread of infection and helping them to remain safe during this public health emergency.”
“VA saved my life in a major way.”
Probst has now been living in stable housing for four years. He receives home care three days a week, which includes someone to shop for him, and has monthly check-ins with Eddy to make sure he has everything he needs.
“Ron is an inspiration for all that he’s gone through,” said Eddy. “He always has a smile on his face. He never has a bad word to say about anything. He came to us with no income and we were able to assist him in getting social security. Now he has an income. We got him set up with a medical provider. Ron’s an inspiration. I’ve been honored to work with him.”
When asked about what Veterans in a similar situation should do, Probst said, “You have to look into it. To be able to rely on these resources is incredible. I was never one to go on welfare; I wanted to do it on my own. But there are times and circumstances where you find yourself needing help, and you should use it. VA saved my life in a major way.”
More information about VA programs
- Read more about the HUD-VASH program to determine if you are eligible to receive rental assistance.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
- Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
- For more stories like these, visit the HPO website and subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.