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VA Homeless Programs


Employee Spotlight

August 15, 2022

Heidi McCarty, LICSW

Heidi McCarty, LICSW HUD-VASH Case Manager
VA Huntington Health Care, Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center

Q: How long have you worked for VA?

A: I have worked at the Hershel “Woody” Williams VAMC for 15 years. Prior to working for the homeless programs, I worked in Inpatient Surgery; the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as the Spinal Cord Injury Coordinator; Polytrauma/Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI); and the community care programs. Prior to employment, I was a medical social work student from 2005 to 2006.

Q: What led you to your position at VA?

A: As I was preparing to graduate from high school in 1990 and making a plan for my future, I realized I wanted to serve my country by joining the military. However, my father had served in Vietnam as a Marine, and he asked me not to join because he thought it wasn’t a place for a woman. In that moment, I agreed with him, but was still determined to serve in some capacity. Working at VA allows me to serve by providing care for Veterans and their families.

Q: What did you do before coming to VA?

A: Prior to working at VA, I worked in child and adult protection services and as a court social worker for family court systems.

Q: What does your day-to-day look like?

A: This is hard to answer. I have a tentative schedule but have to be prepared to change at a moment’s notice to help with any urgent needs that may arise for a Veteran.

I provide coverage for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program over a large geographical area in Appalachia. My goal is to provide case management services for at least 3 Veterans each day.

Case management actions depend on where a Veteran is in the housing process. For those who are currently housed, case management includes assisting with budgeting, scheduling medical appointments at VA and community providers, educating about community resources that will help with housing stability, and working to address any landlord issues. For those who are not housed, I work with the Veteran to identify housing options through social media outlets, newspapers, and lists from housing authorities. I also work with them to make calls and follow-ups. I find that this helps Veterans take more ownership of their housing, and they tend to be happier with housing selections.

One of the most beneficial case management days is when I transport Veterans for housing searches, bill pay, shopping, and medical appointments. I find the informal atmosphere of the vehicle lessens much of the anxiety a Veteran may feel, and it’s the best time to build rapport with the Veteran. It allows me to learn so much about their history, family, and lives in general, as they tend to talk more freely.

Although the majority of my time is spent with direct patient care, I have found that it is also critical that I have routine contact with our community partners. I would not be able to do my job without their support.

Q: Your site recently developed a pilot with Habitat for Humanity to help HUD-VASH Veterans with homeownership. What is this pilot about and why do you feel it’s important?

A: This is a wonderful project that we feel honored to participate in. Simply put, this is an opportunity for Veterans, as well as Veterans with families, to achieve homeownership with ongoing financial assistance and continued supportive case management.

Veterans who have been successful in the HUD-VASH program and also meet the Habitat for Humanity program eligibility are able to maintain the financial subsidy that has helped sustain stable housing through renting for the purpose of helping with the home payment. VA and HUD-VASH staff also continue to provide supportive case management.

The Veterans are very happy to have the ongoing subsidy to make home ownership a possibility, but what we have found is that the ongoing case management support is critical and much appreciated by the Veterans.

Q: What do most people get wrong about homelessness?

A: Many people have no idea why individuals become homeless. I have listened to those who believe that people experiencing homelessness are simply lazy and don’t want to work. Many think they only want something free from the government, that the homeless are addicts and do not want help, or that they are mentally ill.

I love when I get the opportunity to educate friends, family, and even those I encounter in a store or on the street.

Q: What’s your “why” for this work?

A: My why is that I am making a difference each and every day.

Working with the homeless population is very rewarding. I get to be the person that helps someone obtain a safe place to sleep at night, giving them the ability to fix themselves a hot meal, take a shower, and have a safe place to store food and clothing without fear of losing it. I could go on and on about the physical parts of helping Veterans secure housing.

But it goes much deeper, starting with how the security of finding shelter for a Veteran allows me to help that person get to a healthier place emotional and mentally. Many times, finding employment or another form of income allows the Veteran to purchase what they like and what they want for the first time in years.

Seeing the smile on the face of a Veteran purchasing a meal to give to a person experiencing homelessness is the most wonderful thing. The Veteran is then able to help and give back.

After working with a young Veteran for about a year – helping him access mental health treatment, medical treatment, VA benefits, and a stable home – he finally felt comfortable engaging in community activities. He no longer had shame or fear that someone would judge him for where he had been. This Veteran now volunteers 3-4 days a week at the community food pantry.

I believe in the simple terms, “I am blessed to be able to work with the Veteran homeless population and to have the ability to help a Veteran become whole again.”