Veterans serving veterans: NEPA-based transitional housing program
Local veterans are upholding the principle of serving others above themselves by running an integrated healthcare and housing program.
For the last four months, Navy veteran Melissa Knight has lived at Paul’s House, a transitional housing building in Polk Township run by the VALOR Clinic Foundation. Aside from housing, Knight came to VALOR to learn from other veterans how to cope with the veteran/civilian divide.
“They know what they’re doing. They’ve made it that far. So, that’s the best way – to go to the people that know it,” said Knight.
At VALOR, veterans’ financial, physical, and emotional needs are addressed by an action plan aiding veterans in achieving personal goals. Knight said VALOR is helping her work through her list.
“It’s helping me save my money that I need to save and helping me with…networking with people. So, it is helpful that way. And if you put yourself out there, they will help you in any way that they can,” said Knight.
Like Knight, a Vietnam War veteran who asked for his name to be withheld from the story, said VALOR empowers veterans.
“You’re not sleeping out in the street. You have your own room. You get to save money, you pay your bills. Because here, you don’t pay for anything, but be grateful. And in return, you run the house, do things that you would do if you had your own place,” said the Vietnam veteran.
The Vietnam veteran treats Paul’s House like his own. He helps out employees by answering the phones and completing other housekeeping tasks.
He highlighted VALOR’s Veteran Unstoppable program, which combines peer support and outdoor retreats to help veterans and their loved ones address traumas. The program is a safe space for veterans to share what they’re struggling with, said the Vietnam veteran.
“You get to speak your piece. Get a monkey off your back or off your shoulders. You really get to express – maybe you don’t want to – but things you’re hiding in the closet. But through the retreat, it brings it out of you,” said the Vietnam veteran.
VALOR takes a different approach to healthcare than traditional veteran programs, according to CEO and Founder Mark Baylis. A veteran himself, Baylis started VALOR in 2008 after serving in the U.S. Army Special Forces.
“I got out hurt. And had a little bit of a bumpy transition to reintegrate back into the civilian world and had to do a bunch of research on my own to figure out how to do it. And then I started helping other vets having the same problems after I figured some things out. And it has grown…we helped more than 3,000 veterans last year,” said Baylis.
Baylis started VALOR after struggling to navigate the veteran/civilian divide himself.
“The behavior norms and expectations are so divergent between the military and the civilian world at this point that there’s just a lot of social conflict. And some of the places it’s most evident in is between the providers that are supposed to help the vets,” said Baylis.
Baylis hopes to start a continuing education class that would educate healthcare providers on military behavior norms to teach them how to better relate to and treat veterans. He explained how the military’s wartime work ethic often conflicts with civilians’ work ethic.
“Because [veterans] don’t ask for help quickly. If they get to the point where they’re worn down enough where they turn to the system for help – think of a homeless vet – and [providers] kind of [say,] ‘Oh well, you’re going to have to try to come back tomorrow…because I get off in a few minutes and oh by the way, I can’t fill out that form. Don’s gotta fill out that form,” said Baylis.
Veterans are cross-trained in the military, according to Baylis. Each soldier knows how to do everyone else’s job on their team. That efficiency is ingrained in a veteran’s psyche, and can cause tension with how veterans see their healthcare providers, Baylis said.
“I don’t think [providers] understand how their behavior is viewed and why. It is viewed contemptuously…If you can talk enough with the vets to get them to tone down – because our whole culture [revolves around the idea that] if we make mistakes then people die. And we often – it’s so subliminal – that we don’t even think that we’re thinking that way,” said Baylis.
Those tensions can lead to someone falling through the cracks of the system, according to Baylis. VALOR works with homeless encampments in the community through Stand Downs, which bring season-appropriate clothing, food, and other resources to encampments.
Baylis said VALOR needs more help from healthcare organizations in addressing homelessness.
VALOR’s outreach events help non-veterans and veterans alike – including people staying at Paul’s House, their transitional housing building. The Vietnam veteran said he feels fulfilled by taking part in VALOR’s Stand Down, holiday meals and other volunteer events.
“You’re giving to families. Y’know, giving. Because you’ve been given, so now you’re giving. So, it’s veterans helping veterans and also just families in need,” said the Vietnam veteran.
VALOR is just one of many organizations in Pennsylvania working to end veteran homelessness. They are always looking for volunteers and they operate out of Monroe County.