Complexities abound amongst homeless Veterans. Many of them have issues with substance abuse, lack of support and coordination which leads them to a life on the streets. Weaving an easy path back to a better home is the goal of the Phoenix VA Health Care System and it ties into Secretary Shinseki’s initiative to end homelessness amongst Veterans within the next five years.
“There was a female Veteran in her mid-40s and she had few or no teeth when I assessed her,” said Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Program Manager Michael Leon LCSW. “She wanted to go back East but she wanted to get clean and sober first.”
The Veteran was referred to the Substance Abuse Clinic and to the Housing Urban Development- VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program for help with her substance abuse problem and to find housing. She was eligible for VA health care and thanks to a partnership with the Central Arizona Shelter Services dental program, was able to get her teeth fixed.
“Every time I see her smile, I think, ‘That’s success,” he said.
When it comes to providing services to homeless Veterans, Leon said the HCHV’s first priority is to provide health care while at the same time working with community partners to find housing options for our Veterans in need.
“When they come in they get a mental health screening and a physical exam to see what their health care needs are. Along with that comes the screening to see which transitional homeless programs they may be eligible for including HUD-VASH, which can take anywhere 30 to 90 days based on housing voucher availability and where they would like to live,” he said.
While the medical center doesn’t provide housing it does have community outreach programs with several community partners to help meet that need, he explained.
During the past five years, our VA has averaged 50 percent or more of the total HCHV veterans seeking care within our region,” he said. That number equals about 1,300 Veterans per year.
“I couldn’t do it without my staff,” he said. “They are a blessing.”
To refer a homeless Veteran to the Phoenix VA call (602) 277-5551 ext. 1-7656 or ext. 1-6185. The HCHV is located in Trailer 14, which is across the parking lot north of the main hospital. PVAHCS is one of 27 VAs connected to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans also known as Operation Home Front, Leon said, adding that the telephone number for the program is 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).