“The future looks bright again.”

Badges of Honor

Like his father and grandfather before him, Nick served our country. But he was the first Marine in the family, and Nick wore that like a badge of honor.

Nick served from 1988 to 1992. During the first Gulf War, he earned another badge of honor—the Purple Heart.

The wound didn’t stop Nick from serving an additional four years in the reserves. Meanwhile, back home in California, he started work as a security guard at his dad’s office. The job paid the bills, but he kept his eyes open for something better. Eventually he landed a desk job as a data entry clerk for an insurance company.

Work was steady. Nick put down roots near Bakersfield. He got married, started a family. And then, after 10 years with the insurance company, he was laid off. By then, Nick had two kids.

“Things were getting tougher for our family,” he says.

Nick worked odd jobs when he could get them, but it was tough to make ends meet. So, he and his wife took drastic measures.

“We uprooted ourselves and moved our kids to Los Angeles,” he says. “That’s when I found out about the programs for veterans. I had no clue, no idea.”

That’s a common refrain among veterans who fall on hard times—they’re simply unaware of the programs and benefits offered by the V.A. and other organizations to help them. (It’s one of the reasons why the V.A. started organizing Stand Down events.)

Nick learned about the HUD-VASH housing program for veterans, and also that he could apply for benefits because he had been wounded. These programs helped him secure housing for his family, but he still couldn’t find steady work.

“The utility bills started to stack up on us,” Nick says. “That’s where we ran into a big problem.”

He owed the utility company nearly $800—money he didn’t have. He worried about paying the bill. He worried about keeping his housing. He worried about providing for his family. The anxiety was crippling.

He didn’t know what to do, and as a proud, third-generation veteran, he certainly didn’t want to ask for help.

“Part of being a veteran is being stubborn,” Nick says. “It took me a while to figure out that sometimes we need help.”

Even Marines.

Nick sought help from a social worker at the V.A., who put him in touch with the Elks, a partner organization that offers emergency assistance to veterans living in the eight metropolitan areas targeted by the V.A. for increased focus from the Elks: Chicago, D.C., Loma Linda, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, New York, San Diego, and Seattle.

“I thank God that there are organizations like the Elks that are out there to help veterans,” Nick says. “I thought they were only going to be able to help me with part of the utility bill … but they paid the whole thing. That brought tears to my eyes, and my family’s as well.”

The Elks’ Emergency Assistance Fund is designed to provide stability at a critical time to help veterans exit or avoid homelessness. Veterans can apply for up to $2,500 in emergency assistance. For Nick, the program did exactly what it’s supposed to do. He’s now working full time at a job he enjoys, and he’s taking care of himself. His anxiety is under control.

“[The emergency assistance] kind of got me back on my feet,” Nick says. The future looks bright again. … I’m going in the right direction.”

“I have a lot to thank the Elks for,” Nick continues. “Organizations like the Elks understand veterans. They get it.”

Nick is marching forward, his head held high. Every veteran like him who we help on their journey is another badge of honor in our fight to end veteran homelessness.

The mission continues.

Read more stories from the Be the Spark series about other veterans who've received assistance through the Emergency Assistance Fund here.

Since July 2015, the Elks National Foundation has contributed $4 million to help end veteran homelessness. The money funds the Elks National Veterans Service Commission's Welcome Home initiative, which includes an Emergency Assistance Fund for veterans in eight metropolitan areas targeted by the V.A. for increased focus by the Elks. To date, the Elks have helped more than 1,350 veterans exit or avoid homelessness through emergency assistance. Learn more at enf.elks.org/WelcomeHome.

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