Brandy* wanted to join the military from the time she was six years old.
In high school, she spent her down time doing physical training with local recruiters. When she turned 17, she convinced her parents to sign paperwork allowing her to join up early. She left Dundalk, MD for boot camp, where she was trained as an ammunitions specialist.
With big dreams in mind, she wasn’t thrilled when her first assignment was office work, but she followed orders. Until, at 19, her new career came to an unexpected end. She experienced an assault and was honorably discharged from the Army with a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“My whole world fell apart,” she said. Now out of the military, she was pregnant and short on resources. Still dealing with the effects of trauma, she wound up in a series of bad relationships. “It was a roller coaster of nightmares for a long time.”
In August of 2019, Brandy was living in a townhouse with two of her children. It was not much of a home though, as she dealt with leaks in the roof, broken plumbing, and the smell of raw sewage permeating the property. “I had a baby in the house, and we couldn’t even cook or wash dishes because the water was so disgusting,” Brandy remembers. Despite continued attempts to get help from her landlord, conditions did not improve. She felt trapped in a cycle of poverty and unhealthy relationships. Brandy’s deteriorating physical and mental health made it difficult to maintain a job or fight for the benefits she knew she was due.
Desperate to escape her health hazard of a living situation, Brandy moved her family into a hotel. At least that, she figured, would keep them safe. But the price tag quickly soared. “It was expensive, and we were trying to pay for a storage unit too. I was broke.” She felt like she was on her own.
Until she met Nicole Riley, a case manager with Sheppard Pratt’s Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families (SSVF) program. “When I felt like nobody cared,” Brandy remembers, “she sure did. She was going to help me.” SSVF provided the resources to pay Brandy’s hotel bill and set about finding her family sustainable housing. Brandy had started seeing someone during this time and between her new partner’s full-time paycheck and SSVF support, the family was able to secure a home in Bel Air. “I just needed a roof over our heads so I could turn my credit around and access my VA home loan,” Brandy says.
But things didn’t stay peaceful for long. In October of 2022, Nicole helped Brandy obtain a protective order against her partner due to domestic mental and physical abuse. “When things blew up between us, and [my partner] left, Nicole helped me fast track my disability claim so we wouldn’t become homeless. It was stressful, and I really appreciated Nicole so much,” Brandy says.
From housing assistance to puppy training
Working with a Veterans Affairs (VA) representative, a health navigator, and Nicole, Brandy secured 70% disability coverage. Nicole helped Brandy get connected to support systems in the community and her earned VA benefits. With assistance from her Sheppard Pratt therapist and her SSVF team, she successfully applied for rental assistance for veterans from the U.S. Department of Housing (HUD-VASH vouchers) and state assistance.
In February 2023, the lease on her Bel Air home was ending, and she did not have the option to renew. With newfound confidence and access to supportive resources, Brandy started applying for new apartments by herself for the first time. She was approved for a 2-bedroom apartment in Harford County, and she paid her security deposit and first month’s rent with her own income.
Her family is settling in well. Her kids, 7 and 4, are thrilled to welcome the newest member of the family—Simi, a 3-month-old lab mix. “I have always wanted a puppy, and now that we achieved this stability together, it was time,” Brandy says. “My kids love her, and I am so grateful for the companionship.”
In her own words
“There are good things and bad things about being a veteran,” Brandy says. “Even with what happened in the military, in the end, it changed my life for the better. Being a veteran makes you part of a community. You feel like you don’t fit in with regular people anymore. Sheppard Pratt understands that, and they are part of that community. I just don’t know where I’d be without the help that I got. I appreciate everyone and everything I got along the way, more than I could ever tell you.
Nicole made me feel like I had a friend, like someone was truly invested in my well-being and my family’s. Between her and my therapist, they were the exact people I needed in my life when I needed them most.
I am on the right track now. With therapy, and the programs I’m in, I feel like I am making better choices and moving forward instead of living in the past and the trauma I experienced. I am going to treat myself as if I am worthy of thriving, because I am. I am training a puppy myself, in an apartment I got myself. It feels really good. Where I am now feels like home.”
*Last name withheld at Brandy’s request.
Sheppard Pratt offers many services to help veterans thrive in the civilian world: housing assistance, employment help, addiction services, mental healthcare, and more.