From Heroes to Homeless to Independent Living

Veterans improved their quality of life

[Photo 1: From left: Jari Moreno, VACHS; Antonio S├ínchez, VACHS; Ramona Vargas recipient of Make a Difference Award, VACHS; Efraín Maldonado, HUD Caribbean Field Office Director; Alberto Lastra, Secretary, PRDH.]
(Photo) From left: Jari Moreno, VACHS; Antonio Sánchez, VACHS; Ramona Vargas recipient of Make a Difference Award, VACHS; Efraín Maldonado, HUD Caribbean Field Office Director; Alberto Lastra, Secretary, PRDH.

On October 23rd five women and 18 men from different walks of life got together to celebrate three things they have in common: all of them are veterans; all of them were homeless; all of them graduated into independent living again, no longer requiring housing subsidy.

The veterans received medical assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs and housing subsidy with funds from the HUD-VASH program from HUD, which is administered by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing. The HUD-VASH program is part of the national effort to eliminate homelessness among veterans.

The 1st HUD-VASH Graduation to highlight the achievements of veterans who have met their service plan goals was hosted by HUD at the Veterans Affairs Caribbean Healthcare System (VACHS) Auditorium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Among the featured speakers were Efraín Maldonado, HUD Caribbean Field Office Director; Antonio Sánchez, VACHS Chief of Staff; Jari Moreno, VACHS Director of the Social Work Department; and Alberto Lastra, Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Housing. "This graduation is not only a symbolic event, but a celebration of the goals that these veterans were able to achieve to improve their quality of life," said Maldonado. "It is also the result of the combined efforts from federal and state agencies that were able to care for the men and women who at one point in time risked their lives for the privileges and liberties we enjoy today."

One of the graduates shared her experience and gratitude with the social workers who believed in her when she couldn't; helping her finish her education all the way to college, and finding employment to support her children. Today she is proud to share with everyone the spirit of the VASH program; and she is a firm believer that homelessness does not define an individual, but can offer strength for the challenges ahead.

This program requires the relentless effort of dedicated case workers who never give up on the persons assigned to them. The graduation was also the occasion to celebrate one of these unsung heroes. Ramona Vargas, VASH caseworker for the Department of Veterans Affairs was awarded the 2014 Make a Difference Award. Her incredible work with VASH participants-that many times extends beyond the four walls of the hospital-has truly made a difference in their professional, academic, and personal lives.

Since 2008 the HUD San Juan Field Office, the VA Caribbean Healthcare System, and the Puerto Rico Department of Housing have joined in a partnership towards achieving the common goal of ending veteran homelessness, as outlined in the Opening Doors initiative, and most recently in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Both of these initiatives aim to provide housing subsidy and supportive services to homeless veterans across the nation by using the power of federal, local, and non-profit resources. Through the HUD-VASH program, this partnership has been successful in providing housing to 144 homeless veterans in Puerto Rico, and has thus contributed to the nationwide 33% drop in veteran's homelessness.

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Content Archived: August 24, 2016