House Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Improving Services for Homeless Veterans
n Thursday, the House Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee, led by Chairman Michael H. Michaud, (D-ME), held a hearing on homeless veterans, concentrating on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD). This program provides competitive grants to community-based, faith-based and public organizations to offer transitional housing or services for homeless veterans. The Grant and Per Diem program is an essential component of the VA's continuum of care for homeless veterans, assuring the availability of social services, employment support, and direct treatment or referral to medical treatment.
"It is my belief that the goal of VA homeless programs should be to not only provide veterans with a bed for the night and a meal, but to provide them with the resources that they need to obtain permanent housing, a steady job and a renewed sense of self-worth" said Chairman Michaud.
The VA estimates that on any given night, there are approximately 200,000 homeless veterans and that 400,000 veterans experience homelessness at some point throughout the year. The majority of these veterans served in Vietnam, 96% are male and about 45% suffer from mental illness.
"The tragedy of homeless veterans is that we know what we need to do to prevent it, but neither the military or VA bureaucracy is ready to do this," said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "We also know the repercussions of not doing something. The military should insist on mandatory screening when troops are discharged and the VA must be prepared to provide comprehensive services to prevent homeless veterans."
Witnesses testified that the way in which the GPD program is currently structured can make it difficult for organizations to effectively provide the services that veterans need. GPD providers reported that the maximum daily rate of $31.30 is far less than the actual daily cost of care to a veteran. Providers also complained that overly burdensome accounting requirements result in delayed reimbursements and can cause smaller organizations to choose not to participate in the program. GPD program recipients are not allowed to use other available sources of income to furnish services to homeless veterans and witnesses noted that providers felt they suffered a penalty for finding other sources of revenue.
Specific concerns included lack of flexibility in providing care in high cost areas that often have high concentrations of homeless veterans as well as difficulties finding affordable permanent housing for veterans ready to leave the program. "VA and its providers are also grappling with how to accommodate the needs of the changing homeless veteran population that will include increasing number of women and veterans with dependents," said Daniel Bertoni of the Government Accountability Office.
"While the vast majority of homeless veterans are male, female veterans are the fastest growing segment of this population," said Chairman Michaud. "Women homeless veterans face similar challenges to their male counterparts, but they are very likely to have experienced serious trauma including abuse or rape and a significant number also have children to support. VA programs must be flexible to meet these new challenges."