More homeless veterans graduate to independent living

VA program helps turn around homeless veterans' lives

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - More than 1 in every 10 homeless people in the United States is a military veteran.

While that figure sounds high, it actually is far lower than it was a decade ago.

Homeless programs provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs are getting much of the credit for the decline in those numbers.

"This year, we have over 115 graduates from HUD-VASH. So it's been a big year," Chocka Sullivan said amid applause.

The head of Overton Brooks VA Medical Center's homeless program delivered that good news to veterans, their loved ones and staffers Thursday at the Shreveport hospital.

"Out of all the people that come through our doors for HUD-VASH, 90 percent of them actually leave and exit the program permanently housed. So that's huge."

It was graduation day for the latest batch of once-homeless veterans now transitioning from case management to independent living.

Among them was Joe Cooper, who explained with a smile and some humor how this program inspired him to get a human services degree from Southern University.

"I said, 'These people are social workers? God, I know I can do better than that!'"

After delivering that big laugh, Cooper got serious and explained how valuable the VA homeless program and its staff are in turning lives around.

"If they got paid by what they do for an individual veteran and were billed for helping that veteran man, I would owe ya'll $7 million."

Lest there be any doubt about the effectiveness of such programs, consider this: According to government figures, ever since 2005 the percentage of homeless veterans in this country has dropped by 70 percent, credited largely to VA homeless programs.

Cooper described what's perhaps the most important factor he's learned over the years.

"Rehabilitation begins right here in your mind. It starts in your mind. You gotta change the way you think."

With an estimated 40,000 veterans still homeless on any given night in this country, there's still plenty of work ahead.

And VA estimates show 1.4 million other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness.

The reasons range from poverty, to a lack of support networks, along with what's described as dismal living conditions.

Copyright 2018 KSLA. All rights reserved.