The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs today proposed legislation to help the Department of Veterans Affairs meet its goal to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015.
The Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2013 is sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate veterans' panel.
While there has been a 17 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans since 2009, there still were more than 62,000 homeless veterans as of the latest count by the VA.
"We must continue to invest in the progress that has been made and remove any remaining barriers to housing for veterans," Sanders said.
"Our veterans served our country with honor and they should not be forgotten when they return home," Burr said. "Helping homeless veterans get off the street and back on their feet is our obligation, and this legislation is an important step in that direction."
John Driscoll, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, welcomed what he called "the most comprehensive and well-resourced homeless veterans assistance bill ever introduced in Congress." Driscoll said the bill "provides the support necessary to ensure our nation's plan to end veteran homelessness succeeds."
A VA survey of homeless veterans for the past three years identified access to legal services as one of the top unmet needs among homeless veterans. In addition, barriers that prevent homeless women from utilizing VA programs have been identified by the department's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office.
Both legal services and women's issues are addressed in the legislation by Sanders and Burr. Their bill would allow the VA to enter partnerships with public and private entities to increase the availability of legal services for homeless veterans. It also would require transitional housing providers to meet the gender-specific needs of homeless women veterans.
Other provisions in the bill would:
* Permanently authorize the Department of Labor Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program.
* Keep veteran families together by allowing VA to house the children of homeless veterans in transitional housing programs.
* Provide incentives to avoid disruptions that arise when veterans complete transitional housing programs and move on to permanent housing.
* Expand eligibility for the Homeless Veterans Dental Program.
* Reauthorize VA programs for homeless veterans, including drop-in centers, transitional housing programs, rapid re-housing programs, and employment programs for homeless veterans.