Stephanie Duncan outside of her apartment building in Cincinnati.

With the rising cost of housing nationwide, the practice of couch surfing or doubling up with friends, family or loved ones has become more common. But these temporary living arrangements can leave someone just an argument away from being on the streets.

That was the case for Navy veteran Stephanie Duncan. After losing her husband, Ken, in 2019, Duncan began to drink. Her alcohol consumption steadily increased over time to the point where she became hooked.

“I knew I was no longer in control, so I decided to leave my job and take early retirement,” said the Cincinnati native. “But with alcoholism in control at that point, my finances and life went to shambles.”

To get back on the right path, Duncan moved in with her family, but a member of the household was also dealing with alcoholism, which made the living situation untenable. She soon found herself homeless again.

Duncan turned to anywhere she could to find shelter and help. She slept in her car, at local homeless shelters, a hotel when she could afford one and even rehab centers where she tried to get sober.

At rock bottom, she finally decided to turn to the Department of Veterans Affairs and checked into Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. The program provides state-of-the-art, high-quality residential rehabilitation and treatment to veterans with mental illness and addiction.

About three weeks into the program in October 2023, Duncan and other program residents attended the annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down at DAV National Headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky. At the event, they had the opportunity to learn about employment, housing and treatment options and to speak with a DAV benefits advocate about benefits earned through service.

“That’s where I met my guy, Don, and my life began to change,” Duncan said.

Don Inns, a DAV benefits advocate, was reviewing veterans disability claims at the event when Duncan approached him to review her claim.

“I noticed an error in the rating decision for her mental health claim and reached out to the VA to correct,” Inns said. “In less than two months, the VA fixed the error, and Duncan was awarded the appropriate rating for her condition and received the compensation she deserved.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephanie Duncan with her father, Master Chief Petty Officer Richard Baumann (1990).

Additionally, while at the stand down, Duncan was able to connect with the IRS to address her taxes; the Social Security Administration; and potential housing options for when she completed the VA domiciliary program. This comprehensive system of support was able to provide the necessary resources Duncan needed to address multiple problems that she had been experiencing in her life.

“The [domiciliary] program and stand down saved my life,” Duncan said. “The program had the treatment I needed to get sober, and the stand down had all the resources I needed at one event to help rebuild my life.”

“Our Homeless Veterans Stand Down provides veterans experiencing homelessness with the necessary resources to obtain stable, permanent housing,” said DAV Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. “It’s heartening to hear stories like Stephanie’s and see the incredible impact DAV can have on veterans’ lives.”

With the holistic support of the VA and DAV, Duncan has been able achieve and maintain sobriety, get access to the veterans benefits she earned through service, and find a place of her own. She now hopes to give back to the veteran community and has signed up as a DAV volunteer at her local VA.

“So many others have helped me regain hope, and now I want to be able to provide a bit of that for others who might need it,” she said.