This is the story of a Veteran who found help at a transitional facility for homeless Veterans.
Seven days after walking across the stage for his high school graduation, Robert Wooding was on a plane to Army basic training in Fort Bliss, Texas. “I was a very rebellious teenager and an only child. I said, ‘You know what? No college, I’m out of here!’” Wooding said.
After basic training, Wooding headed to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where he worked as a wireman, connecting phones to make sure important messages could be relayed. Next he was stationed in Germany, where he spent 18 months as the base commander’s driver.
“I would try just about any job headquarters would ask of me,” Wooding said, laughing.
After transitioning back to civilian life, Wooding got a steady job working for a large telecommunications company. It was the perfect place for someone who had honed his wireman skills in the Army. He worked for the company for more than 14 years before receiving devastating news about someone very important to him, news that would alter his life path.
From communications to caretaking
When Wooding learned his mother was diagnosed with lymphoma, he stepped away from his career and stepped up to become her full-time caretaker. “I didn’t have to think twice about who would be caring for my mother. I knew I would be there for her 100%. My mom was my best friend,” he said.
When Wooding’s mother died in 2018, he wasn’t in a position to buy her house. For the first time, at age 55, he found himself experiencing something he never imagined: homelessness.
Reaching out to VA
Wooding moved to Boston with only $200 in his pocket. He stayed in a hotel where he previously worked while he looked at shelters that might be able to help him.
He reached out to his local VA where a caseworker directed him to Mass Bay Veterans Center, a 22-bed transitional facility for homeless Veterans which has case management services to help Veterans find permanent and affordable housing.
Wooding was originally told it could take weeks or months to get a bed, so he was surprised when he was able to move in that same day. He couldn’t believe how everything was falling into place. “I was one of the lucky ones.”
Wooding spent nine months at the facility. During that time, he worked with a social worker at the VA Boston Healthcare System to secure a HUD-VASH voucher and found permanent housing in an apartment facility with units specifically for vulnerable Boston-area Veterans.
He was relieved to learn that participating in the HUD-VASH program didn’t interfere with his sense of independence.
Plotting a new path
Once he found stable housing, Wooding was ready to find something else: employment.
In 2022, he met Tyler Harmon, a VA community employment coordinator, and expressed interest in putting his unique background and service to use working for VA.
They built a strong resume for Wooding, and he began applying to federal job announcements that piqued his interest. His hard work paid off: Wooding got a job as a program support clerk at the Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center, just minutes away from where he was born.
In June, Wooding will have one year working for VA under his belt, giving back to the institution that helped him exit homelessness and find a job that inspires him. He says his hopes for the future include 10 more years on the job, but that he has a whole lot more life to live and care to give.
“I still want to keep going. Volunteering would be the next step for me after this, but I definitely want to stay in the VA family,” he said.
Wooding’s work ethic and love for his VA family have not gone unnoticed. In April, he was honored with a VA Secretary’s Honor Award for I CARE, a prestigious recognition from VA Secretary Denis McDonough. The award recognizes employees who have gone above and beyond to care for and serve Veterans, their families, caregivers, survivors or fellow employees.
Harmon is thrilled for Wooding’s continued success and acknowledges all his hard work. She finds his story inspiring and, with his permission, often shares Wooding’s tale with other Veterans.
Learn about VA programs
To read more stories on Veteran homelessness, visit VA News and Information.
This post, VA homeless programs there for Army Veteran, was originally published by the Veteran's Administration.
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