About a year ago, former Army Medic Edward Schwirian called VA’s Help for Homeless Veterans Hotline (877-4AID-VET) to find out if there was any help available to him. “I didn’t know whether I was gonna live under the bridge or take the bridge.”
Now, after successfully completing homeless and addiction programs at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS) and improving his health by partnering with VAPHS health care providers, he is working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and living at Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard.
These people will guide you to a better life…
Schwirian shared his story at VA Pittsburgh’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) CHALENG meeting and resource fair for Veterans and community partners.
“I wanted to give accolades to all of the people who’ve helped me and show other Veterans in similar situations that if you stop and listen, these people will guide you to a better life,” said Schwirian. “But you gotta do the work yourself.”
The CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment Local Education Networking Groups) meeting has been held annually for nearly two decades. This year it was combined with a resource fair to maximize the event’s impact for all participants.
As HCHV Coordinator and Event Chairperson, Mary Frances Pilarski says, this event is all about “working together to help Veterans.”
Approximately 55 combined VA and community programs were on hand to network with each other and reach out to Veterans. Represented programs included shelter/housing services, vocational services, health care services, legal services and many other services for Veterans. More than 70 Veterans attended to learn more about the support that is available to them.
Many of these partnerships extend well beyond this one-day event. One program represented was the Veterans Leadership Program (VLP).
“I’m here to get and give information,” said Karen Payne, VLP employment counselor. “I’ll mingle with clients, share information, and recruit Veterans into our program.”
VLP works with Veterans on eliminating any barriers they may have to gaining employment. While they help Veterans with resume writing, soft skills, and interview techniques, they go even further to help boost each Veteran’s morale and confidence. They provide transportation assistance, situation-specific clothing allowances, and even assistance with working through criminal backgrounds. And if a Veteran is not enrolled in VA, they help with that, too.
Payne stresses the importance of this network. “We wouldn’t have as many jobs to connect the Veterans in each program with if we didn’t come together and share.”
James Stokely is a graduate of the VLP program, a VA patient, and now a permanent, full-time employee at VAPHS. He encourages Veterans to attend events like this CHALENG event because “the more you’re out, the better it is to prevent getting in a rut.”
Speaking from his own experience, Stokely is worried that a lot of Veterans “don’t know all the help that’s out there.”