Today, Veteran Elden Branch spends much of his time playing bass guitar and relaxing on the beach in Pensacola, Florida. Such an idyllic retirement seems surreal at times to Branch, whose life looked vastly different not long ago.
From 1984 to 1990, Branch served in the Army, overseeing air defense operations with short-range surface-to-air missiles. During his service, he experienced knee and back injuries. After he separated, the physical strength he had worked so hard to build and maintain in the military seemed to evaporate overnight.
He recalls a time when his mother fell and he wasn’t strong enough to help her up. He felt helpless and, as his deteriorating physical state permeated his mental wellbeing, feeling hopeless. “Nothing mattered,” he recalled.
Branch barely recognized himself as his identity and sense of purpose disappeared. Unfortunately, so did his housing.
Swept off his feet with VA “lifesaver” programs
Branch did not 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 issues worsened, he could no longer delay seeking care. Visiting his local VA in Denver, Colorado, Branch was “swept off his feet.” Though he originally sought support for his physical health, a VA staff member learned about his living situation and connected him to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which he describes as a “lifesaver.”
HUD-VASH staff ensured Branch had a temporary place to stay before helping him find a permanent home.
“They found me something right away,” he said. “It was almost a miracle.”
Branching out with HUD-VASH program
Thanks to the help he received from VA, Branch reevaluated what he wanted from his life. He set out to pursue his lifelong love of music by moving to Florida where a close friend and fellow musician lived. For years, Branch had only dreamed of experiencing the paradise his friend described. Now, it was time for him to branch out, start fresh and rediscover the joy of playing music for others.
“If you were in the military, you’ve earned it.”
VA did not miss a beat helping Branch get settled in Florida. The HUD-VASH team at the VA Gulf Coast Health Care System promptly helped him find housing and obtain furnishings through 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 deposit. Without the help of his HUD-VASH team, Branch acknowledges that obtaining his apartment, “Would have been impossible.”
Along with his apartment’s deposit, the continued improvement in Branch’s quality of life is largely 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 appropriated funds for homeless Veterans and those enrolled in the HUD-VASH program during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Section 4201 made it possible for VA to purchase items otherwise unobtainable for Branch that serve to significantly ease the variety of health issues he continues to battle, including sleep apnea. The authorization also helped him obtain a comfortable mattress and extra batteries for his CPAP machine, batteries that were sorely needed when Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast in August 2021.
Though he describes the benefits of a good night’s sleep on his physical and mental health, Branch urges other Veterans not to sleep on their opportunity to receive help from VA.
“If you were in the military, you’ve earned it”
Branch hopes his experience with VA encourages other Veterans to seek help. “All of this has made me very proud to have served,” he said. “Thank you to anyone who had anything to do with this. It exceeded my expectations.”
Citing his initial hesitation to receive benefits from VA, Branch understands the discomfort others may feel asking for help. He reminds fellow Veterans, “To receive assistance is not a pride thing. If you were in the military, you’ve earned it. You’ve done a good thing for your country. It’s time to reap the benefits,” he added.
Learn about VA programs
- Read more about how the 4201 authority helps VA provide flexible assistance to homeless Veterans.
- 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.