Good morning, and welcome to today's hearing on "Housing for Heroes: Examining How Federal Programs Can Better Serve Veterans."
I welcome our witnesses, and I thank all who traveled to participate in today's discussion.
President Calvin Coolidge said, "A nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten." I couldn't agree more.
For our nation's heroes returning home from duty, re-adapting to civilian life is not always easy.
I've heard countless stories of hardship from veterans who have attended our job fairs or who have worked with me to improve veterans health care options by getting federal approval for a new veterans' outpatient clinic in our area.
Whether it's because of post traumatic stress or trouble finding work -- many veterans in the Chicago area and across the nation are experiencing unstable living conditions, or worst of all, homelessness.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on one night, in January 2011, over 67,000 veterans were homeless. The Department of Veterans Affairs determined that, throughout 2010, more than 144,000 veterans experienced homelessness. Veterans make up one-fifth of our nation's homeless population.
The bottom line is that even one homeless Veteran is one too many.
There are many contributing factors, but data and research point to stable housing as a necessary foundation to help veterans overcome any of the other challenges that they may face.
Some safety nets and government assistance programs do exist, and more recent, targeted housing programs for veterans, like the HUD-VA Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH), are a step in the right direction.
Congress also passed the HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing) in 2009, which commissioned a national plan to end homelessness. The current plan sets a goal of ending Veterans homelessness by 2015. As the co-chair and co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness, that is a worthy goal that I support whole-heartedly.
Beyond government programs and assistance, countless charitable organizations also provide services and housing to Veterans. In fact, I have heard that, occasionally, when funding is short, the employees of these organizations have reached into their own wallets to help a veteran pay a utility bill, the rent, or a security deposit for an apartment.
Not to anyone's surprise, there is always room for improvement in any program but particularly federal programs. That's why we're here today -- to examine barriers that homeless and low-income veterans face in securing housing assistance and services from federal programs. We will discuss findings and suggestions offered by the Government Accountability Office, which has issued a few reports about federal Veterans programs, where there is room for improvement. We also will explore other suggestions to improve federal agency collaboration, program efficiencies, and the administration of homeless housing and services for veterans.
This week, we are working to advance some of those suggestions in the form of legislation to help disabled veterans, H.R. 6361, the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act of 2012, introduced by Mr. Heck.
For purposes of Section 8 and public housing assistance, the bill would exempt from a veteran's income service-related disability benefits and expenses related to in-home aid and care. This bill mirrors language in the "Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act of 2012," broader legislation to reform HUD's Section 8 and public housing programs, which this Subcommittee passed in February.
We're also working on a bill introduced by Mr. Green, who I would like to commend for all of his work to help our veterans. H.R. 6381, the HAVEN Act, would allow HUD to award grants to qualified organizations to rehabilitate and modify the homes of disabled or low-income veterans. I look forward to continuing to work with both gentlemen so that these bills can be signed into law. I also would like to recognize and thank Chairman Bachus for his hard work on these important measures.
While we can never repay our Veterans for the selfless sacrifices they've made to defend the liberties we enjoy, we can work to ensure that they have a place to call home when they return. It's part of the American Dream that they have paid a high price to safeguard, and they should have the opportunity to experience the blessings that dream represents.