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VA Makes Progress to End Veteran Homelessness

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 – They served their country in uniform -– many on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now that they’ve returned home and rejoined civilian life, an alarming number of veterans have found themselves on the streets and living under bridges.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary W. Scott Gould speaks at opening ceremonies for the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., March 27, 2011. Gould said VA is making solid progress on its pledge to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015. VA photo by Jeff Bowen

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Veterans Affairs Department is making progress on its commitment to end homelessness among veterans, Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould told American Forces Press Service, striving to achieve that goal ahead of its original 2015 timetable.

“This is a big, bold goal,” Gould said of the pledge President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced in 2009.

“What I see there is the president and secretary willing to do something that rarely happens in government, which is to set a clear, measurable and time-phased goal -- zero homelessness by 2015 for our veterans -- and then apply the resources, the planning and the leadership to make that happen,” Gould said.

Shinseki has become even more forward-leaning on the issue, vowing to achieve those aims a year ahead of schedule.

“As the president has said, ‘We’re not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America,’” he told the Marine Corps League in February. “If you wonder what I will be working on for the next several years, this is it. We will end veteran homelessness in 2014.”

Also last month, Shinseki told the Disabled American Veterans that major progress has been made. The number of homeless veterans has dropped from about 195,000 six years ago to about 76,000, he reported. VA is working to bring that figure below 59,000 by the end of June 2012, and ultimately, to zero.

VA’s fiscal 2012 budget request includes $939 million – up more than $140 million from last year -- for programs to support this mission and build on progress made.

A comprehensive review is under way to identify vacant or underused buildings in VA’s inventory that could house homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, Shinseki told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month.

So far, VA has identified 94 sites that, once renovated with funds allocated by Congress, could add another 6,300 housing units through public-private ventures using VA’s enhanced-use lease authority, he reported. With this authority scheduled to lapse Dec. 31, Shinseki has urged Congress to provide the reauthorization needed for VA to continue increasing housing for homeless veterans and their families.

Meanwhile, the most flexible and responsive option remains the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program, Shinseki said. The program combines Housing Voice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans with case management and clinical services by VA.

Shinseki said it’s the only option currently available to provide housing for homeless veterans with families.

Gould, attending the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., earlier this week, recognized that homelessness is more than a housing issue and typically stems from health and mental-health problems.

“Homelessness is really a symptom and the end step in a long stage of deterioration,” he said, citing issues ranging from job loss or economic duress to lack of access to health care, relationship problems or chemical dependence.

“So we have invested a lot in improving access to the health care that prevents homelessness,” Gould said. He cited growth in VA’s Veterans Health Administration budget to provide more proactive, preventive mental health and psychological counseling, as well as other health care.

This care helps veterans tackle problems at their root and introduces them to the broad array of programs in place to help in preventing them from slipping into homelessness, he said. “Once they are [at VA], we have the tools and capabilities to be able to help them,” he said.

Gould personally has witnessed the homelessness problem. On a cold, wintery night in late January, he joined Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Interagency Council on Homelessness Director Barbara Poppe, walking the downtown streets of the nation’s capital as part of a national count of homeless persons and families.

“It was a striking experience,” Gould said of his opportunity to meet personally with homeless veterans during HUD’s national “Let’s Make Everybody Count!” campaign.

Equally striking, he said, is that when he asked a homeless man he met if he was a veteran, the man responded that he wasn’t –- “but I wish I were, because of all the great programs you have.”

Defense leaders have joined VA and the president in calling veteran homelessness a scourge on America that must be addressed.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been particularly outspoken on the issue, concerned that a new generation of combat veterans is slipping into the same situation plaguing too many of his Vietnam-era contemporaries.

Mullen said he’s troubled by the number of homeless veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan he has met during his visits to Veterans Affairs hospitals.

"And they are every bit as homeless and every bit as tragic as any homeless vet we've ever had,” Mullen told a Hudson Union Society group in April 2009. “We as a country should not allow that to happen.”

At a National Guard family program volunteer workshop last summer, Mullen shared the story of meeting a young homeless veteran in Los Angeles who had served in both operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Mullen said the veteran told him, “I gave a 100 percent; I’d just like 100 percent back.”

Working with their federal, state and local partners in both the public and private sectors, Gould said VA is committed to providing veterans exactly that.

“Veteran homelessness is not solved by VA alone, but with our HUD partners in federal government, our state governments’ veterans administrations and nongovernmental organizations and local governments,” he said. “It is everyone working together.”


Contact Author

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Homeless Programs


Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

4/7/2011 5:13:17 PM
@Steve - You raise great points. In some areas it is difficult to find case managers for the VASH program. The VA only hires Master's level social workers for these positions and some social workers are apprehensive about working for such a large bureaucracy. To its credit, the VA does compensate these case workers quite well compared to most social work jobs. On your point about preferences for veterans on Section 8 waitlists: Every housing authority is able to set their own local preferences based local need. HAs set these preferences in their administrative plans. HAs are supposed to open up to public commentary when they do their annual reviews of their admin plans. A little noise from the veterans and their advocates could probably go a long way to reaching that goal on a local level!
- DS, Texas

4/4/2011 4:31:52 PM
DIRE URGENCY! AS A VETERAN & MEMBER I LIKE THANK THE Mr.President & COMMEND THE V.A. NEW STAFF CREATING THIS SYSTEM for there efforts to finally get a working system in place but I must agree with the previous writer it must be known, it true that new vouchers must be continued due to the new influx of veterans that willbe in need & the active last that now exist. The effects of this plague has shone it's non discriminative face my home state before, not in the regions of countys that lay outside the metropolitan as in the recent several years.Especially what use to hold claim to major finacial & industry of Montgomery County PA. Where I'm current awaiting and experiencing the wait process on the list & has been for two years& a mecca east of it Bucks County PA. my original home domicile. Thank You
- James Frederick, PA.

4/1/2011 9:53:22 PM
The HUD VASH program has been needed for a long time. It is successful due to the VA Case Management (Supportive Services) that is a mandatory part of getting the rent assistance voucher. A couple of problems have arisen: 1) There are not enough trained VA Case Managers to match to vouchers, and 2) the vouchers are centered around urban areas which have VA Facilities. This leaves a major void in the rural areas, where this program is not available, due to no Case Managers. Personally I would like to see a "preference" for Veterans for Section 8 Vouchers passed nationally by HUD that would require all HRAs to grant this for Veterans applications. This would move Veterans to the front of the line on the waiting lists.They have stood at the front lines for our Nation's Security, and have given back to their country. It's time our country gives back to them when it comes to Government subsidized housing programs!!!
- Steve Saari, Esko, MN

4/1/2011 11:28:30 AM
Homeless Veterans DO NOT WANT to be labeled for life CRAZY, ADDICTED, or ALCOHOLICS for life WHEN THEY ARE NOT! Homeless Veterans DO NOT WANT jammed-packed, prison-like, mandatory 12-Step religious cult warehouse shelters, and watched 24/7 by VA staff, armed guards, and snitches. Homeless Veterans do not want to mop pee off the VA nursing home floors masqueraded as "Job Training". HOMELESS VETERANS WANT: REAL HOUSING, REAL TRAINING, and REAL JOBS!
- August, San Francisco

4/1/2011 9:56:29 AM
Funding for more HUD-VASH vouchers (referenced above) is on the chopping block in the current budget debate. The proposal is to zero out proposed funding for 10,000 vouchers for the upcoming fiscal year. The argument in favor of the cuts is that many thousands of vouchers are sitting unused. This argument is flawed. A voucher isn't "used," statistically speaking, until the veteran has found a home and a subsidy is being paid. This doesn't account for those who have vouchers in hand and are searching for a home, those who are actually housed but whose landlords haven't been paid for the first time yet, those who have been referred by the VA to a housing authority but have not yet received vouchers, and those who are being assessed for eligibility by the VA. If we're serious about ending veteran homelessness, we should be asking legislators to fund new vouchers. Won't you email your congressman to this end? Thanks to the DoD for this statement.
- DS, Texas

3/31/2011 10:00:07 PM
Lately, there seems to be many negative articles in the news on how veterans have slipped through the cracks and are homeless or may not be getting the mental health help they need. I'm happy to read that the government is committed to ending homelessness among our veterans. It looks like the government is making progress on this already. The number of homeless veterans has dropped significantly in the last six years. The comment from the veteran from Los Angeles was dead on. He gave 100 percent; he should get 100 percent back.
- J.B., MT

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