**Op-Ed** - The Silent Crisis
America is faced with a sad reality: Too many of our nation s veterans who served with honor in Vietnam and more recent conflicts are homeless and struggling to survive.
It is a silent crisis that too often has gone unnoticed in the public eye.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that on any given day as many as 300,000 veterans are homeless or one-third of the adult homeless population most living on the streets, while the fortunate few find comfort in a shelter. Almost all homeless veterans are male (about three percent are women), the vast majority are single, and most come from poor, disadvantaged backgrounds. They tend to be older and more educated than homeless non-veterans. And about 45 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and slightly more than 70 percent suffer from alcohol, other drug abuse problems, or a combination of all the above.
America s homeless veterans may have served in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf. If this pattern holds, I fear too many of our servicemen who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan could also be in the same intolerable situation.
To counter these concerns, in 2001, Congress mandated the VA to address this crisis. The Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act, H.R. 2716, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush that year, authorized nearly $1 billion to fight homelessness and mandated the VA to reach four goals:
Provide immediate shelter and medical care to homeless veterans living on the streets;
Strengthen proven programs that provide job training and transitional housing assistance to veterans ready for more independent living;
Develop innovative new interdiction programs to prevent at-risk veterans from becoming homeless in the first place; and
Improve performance and accountability of existing homeless programs.
Consequently, the VA is stepping up its efforts to provide hands-on assistance directly to homeless persons. Although limited to veterans and their dependents, the VA's major homeless-specific programs constitute the largest integrated network of homeless treatment and assistance services in the country.
Helping the VA achieve their mandate is Community Hope, a highly regarded non-profit corporation, headquartered in Parsippany, which has been providing supportive housing and a high quality of care to individuals in Morris County since 1985. Today, they are spearheading what will soon be the first transitional program for homeless veterans in New Jersey. With my active support, they have brought together generous funding from the Somerset County Freeholders, the Lyons VA Medical Center in Bernards Township, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of New Jersey to establish Hope for Veterans - a program to address the root causes of homelessness, both mental illness and recurring substance abuse.
The most notable of Community Hope s projects is the renovation of a four-story building on the VA Hospital Lyons campus that has been vacant for the last eight years. In addition to supplementing Lyons existing short-term Domiciliary Care program for homeless veterans, this facility will provide comprehensive services to veterans including housing for approximately 70 homeless veterans as well as offering them job training placement, medical and psychiatric assistance.
For Community Hope, their overriding goal is to assist veterans in gaining long-term financial self-sufficiency through re-entry into the workforce. By working from the ground-up, Community Hope has established an exciting and innovative program that should serve as a national model for long-term treatment and rehabilitation of homeless veterans. If the VA and veterans organizations across the nation follow this model, America will go a long way toward ending this shameful and silent crisis.
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen represents New Jersey s 11th Congressional District and is a Vietnam veteran.