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.

Army Veteran Elden Branch

“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.

By Eileen Devine is national director for VA's Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program.

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Published on Jan. 12, 2022

Estimated reading time is 4 min.

Views to date: 1,663

19 Comments

  1. Leather Lofton January 22, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    I am a Vietnam Veteran, who was exposed to agent orange. I am receiving VA benefits because of that. In April, I will be eighty years old. I am divorced, and I live alone. I have many physical ailments. I am on dialysis, a diabetic, hypertension, arthritis, anemic, high cholesterol, dementia, gout, migraines, and insomnia.
    My conditions are being controlled with medications, but my big concern is dementia and my forgetfulness. It is rather minor as of now, but I know it will get
    worst (there is no cure), and with me living alone, my future looks rather bleak. Turning eighty, I can’t take care of myself or my apartment like I could when I was younger. I considered moving into an assisted living facility, but the costs here in Hamilton NJ are prohibitive. The VA told me they can only help if I am homeless, which I am not. I am retired from the railroad, where I receive a pension. I have no family that can take me in. My current lease is up Oct. 1st. I don’ know what to do or where to turn. I’m not homeless, but I don’t bring in enough money each month to afford an assisted living facility, and I refuse to go to any nursing home! What am I to do?

  2. Lawrence Rayburn Jr. January 20, 2022 at 7:14 pm

    I don’t believe my comment will be posted. Never mind.

  3. Lawrence Rayburn Jr. January 20, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    Did you delete my last comment?

  4. Lawrence Rayburn Jr. January 20, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I was exposed to Agent Orange Herbicide at the 7th RRFS, Ramasun Station, Thailand in 1970-71 while supporting the war as an
    intelligence intercept operator. I came back to the States in 1972 after 2 tours, one in SEA for 13 month and another 12 months on
    flying status as crew member on RC130B2 and EC121s in south Korea. I finally got down where I couldn’t walk or work in 2009 when
    the Lymphatic Filariasis worms in my blood were no longer dormant, my legs and scrotum swelled to where I couldn’t walk and I developed peripheral neuropathy in my extremities. I went to the VA Regional Hospital at Big Springs, Tx and they promptly turned
    me down for service connected disability. I appealed and they never answered. I had to go on SS Disability in 2009 at the age
    of 60 and haven’t been able to work since. I own a small paid for farm and my wife is 20 years younger than me. I can’t afford insurance for her and am terrified I will die and leave her with no income and no home.
    I went to a VA outreach meeting in Rooney Park, Fort Stockton, Tx back before Christmas and they assured me they would pull
    up my claims and reopen my case…….never heard another thing from them!!

    There are 480 of us Vietnam vets in Reeves county, Texas and over 1000 Sandbox vets….The closest VA hospitals to us are Big Springs….250 miles…..El Paso….250 miles, San Antonio 375 miles. We veterans in Reeves, Ward, Winkler, Culberson, Jeff
    Davis counties ARE NOT BEING SERVED by the VA or DAV. I’m a lifetime member of DAV Midland, Tx post……and the DAV has
    done NOTHING for us/me. The VSOs are joke.

  5. curt January 13, 2022 at 6:36 pm

    not enough money tolive on disability
    dav only agents for government doctors

    don’t need controversy questions your
    ignoring we the veterans
    help get us a apartment
    cant live in fear for doing jobs you never
    have broken toe over
    help us get a place
    politics are at last place real world

    buy a motel have vets pay 100$ month
    as long as they want can or do

  6. Vincent Sharbo January 13, 2022 at 6:33 pm

    My Heart and soul are saddened by what I’m reading here. One man is saved from the streets, and yet more are not. I guess I’m one of the fortunate ones also. In 2016 I was diagnosed with Liver disease and was dying
    50% was already gone by the time of diagnosis. I never drank,did drugs,or ever had hepatitis A,B,orC. Funny. I was always healthy. Yet I was dying. Very slowly. While waiting to get on the transplant list. A doctor from the V.A. recommended me to a doctor at the V.A. in Pittsburgh. So I got a consolation with him. I first had a video chat at my local V.A. clinic in Daytona. The second one would be in Pittsburgh, Pa. So I went to the V.A. Hospital in Pittsburgh,and I
    Talk with the Doctor head of transplants. Dr.. Thomas Cassarealy. He examined me,and decided to take me on. I went into 8 coma’s,and the longest one was two weeks. As my liver continued to fail,my kidneys started to fail. One day a nurse from the V.A. research team came to my room and ask me if I would like to be part of a research study. After what she told me what it entailed I said yes. After taking the shots for 14 days they took a blood test and my kidney’s came back 110%! Now ! You’d think wow! But I wasn’t out of the woods yet! The liver was still failing. It would be several months before my liver transplant. Now! On may 16th.2018 I would receive my new liver. Well we’re not done yet. The recovery would take awhile. Now while I was staying in a hotel about a couple of miles from the hospital,going back,and forth almost every day. One day coming back from the hospital the driver failed to lock down my wheelchair to the floor.and would hit the back wall not once,but twice resulting in several injuries. Only two weeks out of surgery, and then that happens. Crazy! It’s now 4 years later and in all that has happened. I can truly say unaquigely they stepped up for me, and sometimes saying thank you just doesn’t make it! Now I’m not saying the V.A. is perfect, far from it. But! They stepped up for me, and others I saw,and met at that hospital. They still have a long way to go. But if we stick together for Veterans rights, and never Quit we can change what’s wrong with the V.A. vote Veterans in Congress, and the Senate, never stop fighting for your rights. Remember this! Something Rangers taught me. You never lose unless you give up,and Quit. Never ever Quit! Feel me? Keep fighting for your rights! Not everyone at the V.A. is a bad guy! I,and others just like me are alive because there are doctors,and nurses, and technicians that step up for us. Be well, stay safe and God Bless you all.

  7. Mark January 13, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    I am at risk of losing my housing as I type this. I am Army disabled 90% service connected. The stress is killing me.

    Went to the VA clinic to get seen for ear infections yesterday morning. Even though I am vaccinated, out of fear since I have had a fever the VA clinic turned me away.

    I was sent to a civilian urgent care. About four hours later I was seen. I was prescribed two meds and proceeded to Walgreens to pick them up.

    After an hour at Walgreens I’m told that I may not have my medication because they do not have a government contract.

    I call the VA clinic that I was at earlier in the day, 6 hours earlier to be exact. They tell me they can pull up a pharmacy in network.

    They try to send me to the same Walgreens!

    When I let them know that is where I’ve been the VA clinic says okay, the best we can do is overnight the meds. However, we can’t overnight them so you’ll get them the day after tomorrow.

    So here I sit miserable with raging infections in both ears.

  8. They don't care January 13, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Wow this is great. You helped a single veteran. For him that’s awesome but what about the vets that have killed themselves in your parking lots? This is them patting themselves on the back for doing their job. Advertising you helped one vet is insulting to all the others still waiting for help they were promised for serving this country.

  9. Lj January 13, 2022 at 10:30 am

    This is all BS. I used to work in the homeless veteran program as a veteran. The things they would say in meetings about veterans were disgusting. They kept forgetting I was a veteran. I also witnessed, the now fired Dept Head ask a a social work to edit a veterans dates in his file so “we don’t hafto help him”. The hoops you hafto jump through to get hudvash as comical. It deters a lot of veterans to ask for help.

  10. Stan and Dianne January 13, 2022 at 9:26 am

    That’s great to have helped this man, but the medical treatment they provided for my husband was terrible. The ER room personnel were great, but terrible after that. If I get booted out of this comment, I will comment in bits and pieces. After6 days in the room, at 5:30 pm, supper time, my husband was eating. 2 nurses came in his room, started to pack up his things. I asked why. “We need this room for a covid patient. I asked, “what is my husband, Mush?” They took him to the CLC unit. Not knowing what that was, it was a place were no way in h___ cou ld I ever see him unless I stood in a snow bank outside and they brought my husband to a window on the 2nd floor. How in humane. After 8 days of NOT getting him out of bed, after many complaints from me, they were going to get him out of bed on day 9. The nurse was NOT going to put a belt on him during this move. I asked her why not, after all he is a fall victim after 8 straight days in bed. She told me it is NOT hospital policy. I looked her in the eyes and said very seriously, “PUT THE BELT ON!” So she did. I helped lift him by the belt along with the nurse to get him 2 feet to the recliner. He didn’t make it. His legs buckled, he feel to the floor. Imagine had I not insisted on putting the belt on. That would have been a hard fall. It is horrible to see ones husband fall to the floor like a little baby who has no strength in its legs. This is just one horrible part of treatment while in the VA Hospital in Fargo, ND

  11. Anne Griffin January 13, 2022 at 9:25 am

    Oh please! My fiance broke his back and leg in the Air Force. They kicked him out because he couldn’t fly anymore. He’s been fighting for years to get disability!! THEY DON’T CARE!!

  12. David Brinker January 13, 2022 at 9:15 am

    I was homeless back in 2017 and was told several times that I didn’t qualify for help because I had a car to sleep in. Maybe different rules for different veterans?

  13. James Merritt January 13, 2022 at 8:33 am

    I HAVE WAITED 25 MONTHS ON MY CLAIM AND I WILL BE OUT OF MY APT FEB 1 2022 THEN WHAT WILL I DO I CERTAINLY HAVE HOPE THAT I COULD GET SOME HELP I’M SERVICE CONNECTED 80% DAV I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO GET HELP.

    • Veterans Health Administration January 18, 2022 at 11:53 am

      James, please send an email to HomelessVets@va.gov and we will connect you to your nearest VA Medical Center homeless program for assistance. For faster help, please call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).

  14. Ernie Howe January 13, 2022 at 2:43 am

    Don’t let the VA lull you into thinking the System cares. Maybe that individual that helped you cares, but there are many that could care less! Especially in the medical part of the VA where there have been too many deaths & suffering hidden behind HIPPA & the VA’s standard of procedure of making the remaining spouse of a dead vet will have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement to get the settlement & thus the malpractice of cause of death is therefore hidden from thec record & statistics! Wouldn’t want to screw up future allocations of money from the politicians who are scared of the VA, OR those bonuses & promotions due! Those are thex1st & 2nd missions of the VA. PROTECT THE SYSTEM & SKEW THE STATISTICS TO HIDE THE TRUTH so those bonuses & promotions are not affected! Veterans are just the tool used to accomplish 1 & 2.
    Try to find out if those 370 vets trump & the VA used to test trump’s Hydroxychorloquine BS! That joke only cost 38% of the 370 used for the test. See if you can find out if the govt. got 370 signed consent firms to be used as trump’s guinea pigs. You won’t be able too.
    So BE CAREFUL with VA Healthcare. It can kill you at worst & at best, make you suffer by mis-diagnosis, refusal to give new, up to date meds or procedures.
    Don’t say you weren’t warned! I wouldn’t take my dog to a VA! Also, check out the 75 year old combat vet with 35 years of law enforcement’s treatment at the El Paso VA on YouTube. Broke his shoulder by thug VA police he cannot sue! VA can can be dangerous!
    Check veterans sites on social media if you don’t believe me! The VA can murder you & get away with it. Check out the story by the VA IG that said a ortho doc in an Indiana VA “BOTCHED” 147 surgeries on vets feet & ankles. Punishment…, ready….., PROBATION! Could you make x 147 mistakes at your job & still have a job? You could if you worked at a VA!
    Just do you research & don’t believe ANY govt. or especially VA statistics or articles. Remember the vets that died in Phoenix waiting to see a doctor. Hundreds died!

  15. Aaron C Brown January 12, 2022 at 7:56 pm

    Your joking right cause I’m U.S. Army and U.S. Navy Retired and i been homeless for 5 year nothing but BS I’ll live on the streets

    • Veterans Health Administration January 18, 2022 at 11:54 am

      Aaron, please send an email to HomelessVets@va.gov and we will connect you to your nearest VA Medical Center homeless program for assistance. For faster help, please call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).

  16. Kaliah Davis January 12, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    I’ve been calling and no one has helped me at all. They just sent me thoughts and prayers. Guess I’m not an important veteran.

    • Veterans Health Administration January 18, 2022 at 11:54 am

      Please send an email to HomelessVets@va.gov and we will connect you to your nearest VA Medical Center homeless program for assistance.

Comments are closed.

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