When Shannon Cudé left the Marine Corps in 1995 after two years of service, he returned to a civilian world that was different than he remembered. The types of jobs available had changed significantly. Although Cudé found employment in construction, he was unable to support himself and became homeless.

Fortunately, Cudé sought help and was eventually connected to the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. There, Cudé received the help he had earned and deserved as a Veteran.

He was assigned a case worker through the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which guided him to other programs that would change his world again – this time for the better. With help from his case manager, Cudé obtained housing through a HUD-VASH voucher, which provided him with rental assistance.

As Cudé got older and continued to take advantage of VA’s services, it became clear that the programs that serve older Veterans needed to be modified to better meet their needs.

Number of older homeless Veterans has increased

According to Those Who Served, a 2020 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of Veterans today is 65. VA reports that although the overall number of Veterans experiencing homelessness has decreased, the number of older Veterans experiencing homelessness has increased.

And research shows that the mortality rate of adults 50 and older who are experiencing homelessness is four times higher than that of the general population.

The HUD-VASH program has seen an increase in the number of older Veterans they serve, especially those with complex mental and physical health conditions.

To address the needs of older Veterans, HUD-VASH has been collaborating with VA’s Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care (GEC) to expand resources for the older Veteran population.

GEC is uniquely positioned to understand and care for older Veterans. It offers specialized housing for these Veterans that is tailored to the level of support they need.

Those who do not need hospital or nursing home care but who cannot live alone because of physical or psychiatric health conditions may choose to live in a VA-sponsored assisted living facility. These are private homes where a small number of residents rent rooms and share common spaces. GEC’s Community Residential Care (CRC) program provides a trained caregiver 24 hours a day to help with activities of daily living.

Veterans who need a higher level of care can be housed in an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Cudé is one of many older Veterans participating in HUD-VASH/GEC initiatives.

“For Veterans who are older, it can be hard to look at the next steps,” said Mallory Phillips, Cudé’s case worker. “But I’m grateful he stuck it out with me and was willing to roll with the changes and try new things.”

Regaining stability after a traumatic loss with help from VA

In July 2020, six years after Cudé moved into the home he had secured through HUD-VASH, disaster struck.

“I came home to a burning house and began trying to contain the fire,” he said. “It was the Marine in me. I fell through the floor and saw my shoes had melted on my feet. I was coping with pain and losing all my things.”

Cudé was rushed to the ICU of a burn center where he was treated for 30 days. He was then transferred to a medical respite center where he lived for another eight months.

It was imperative that he secure safe housing before his release so he could continue to benefit from the resources and supportive services he still needed to recover from his injuries.

Based on the Housing First approach, Cudé was granted emergency hotel assistance through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. SSVF provides grants to nonprofit organizations that offer temporary housing to Veterans facing homelessness.

While staying at the hotel, Cudé completed the necessary paperwork to secure new long-term housing.

“Never had people look at my life like this.”

Thanks to the collaboration of the Virginia Housing Authority, HUD-VASH, CRC and VA, Cudé made a successful transition to an assisted living facility using his HUD-VASH voucher.

It was a long journey, but Cudé is grateful for the support he received and for the strong combined effort of all these programs to serve older Veterans.

“I’ve never had people look at my life like this, people who are really concerned about me,” he said. “It means a lot to me.”

More information

  • Older Veterans can access resources through the Geriatrics and Extended Care program.
  • 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 assistance and other resources for Veterans exiting homelessness.

By Deborah Lee is the HUD-VASH regional coordinator for the VA Homeless Programs Office

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Published on Oct. 11, 2021

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