VETERANS HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - November 09, 2005)
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Ms. BERKLEY. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I want to thank Chairman Buyer, Ranking Member Evans, Subcommittee Chairman BOOZMAN, and Ranking Member HERSETH for bringing this bill to the floor. Ms. Herseth has been detained at a legislative hearing before the Resources Committee concerning the bill she has introduced. I hope that she will be able to join us before the debate on the bill is completed, but I want to particularly thank her for her input into this important piece of legislation.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be an original cosponsor of H.R. 3665. As amended, the bill before us would provide greater flexibility to the VA's Adaptive Housing Grant program. It also includes measures to extend the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service. The bill also includes language from H.R. 1773, which Ms. Herseth introduced to make the Native American Veteran Home Loan program permanent.
Section 102 of the bill would make permanent the Native American Housing Loan program, currently a pilot program administered by the Veterans Administration since 1993. The Native American Housing Loan program has provided more than 443 direct loans nationwide since its inception. By all accounts, the pilot program has been a great success and, in fact, currently does not require any government subsidy.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enactment of the provision would generate savings of $1 million over the next 5 years. Section 103 of the bill would authorize non-Native American veterans married to a Native American spouse and living on trust or tribal land to fully participate in this direct loan program. Because certain tribal sovereignty rules prohibit ownership interest by nonnative persons, they have been unable to qualify for this home loan program. The language in section 103 would make it possible for a nonnative military member or for a nonnative military member or veteran to qualify for a VA loan if he or she shares a meaningful interest rather than an ownership interest with their respective spouse in their home.
Madam Speaker, on this Friday we will celebrate and honor the service of our Nation's veterans. Hopefully, we will all be in our home districts attending Veterans Day parades and other activities that we share with our veterans. As I do so, I am mindful that over 3,000 veterans in Nevada are homeless. Most of them are living on the streets in Las Vegas. The number of homeless veterans in America is, I am sorry to say, a national disgrace and simply must be addressed. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are already 400 veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who have sought shelter through homeless programs.
I strongly support the provision in H.R. 3665 which would reauthorize appropriations for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program to help veterans get off the street and working again.
With increased efforts to deny VA benefits and, thereby, health care to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, I fear that our efforts to reduce the number of homeless veterans, many who are suffering from PTSD, may be at risk.
One homeless veteran who recently contacted the VA Committee had a VA claim pending for PTSD. We learned that because of a perceived pressure to deny claims, regional office adjudicators were afraid to accept the veteran's testimony of his Iraq combat experience, an article naming him and describing the attack, and a statement of his soldier passenger, who was wounded in the attack, as sufficient credible evidence of a stressor.
VA officials later acknowledged that the evidence provided by the veteran met the legal requirements and the claim was approved, finally.
This veteran's story is an example of how severely mentally disabled veterans are at risk of becoming homeless due to VA policies.
Congress must stop the administration's assault on veterans with severe PTSD. We must also provide opportunities to those veterans who are homeless due to their disabilities. H.R. 3665 will do just this.
I appreciate the cooperation of the gentleman from Arkansas (Mr. Boozman) in including language I had suggested to eliminate the obsolete term ``helpless'' from title 38. Although severely disabled veterans may require significant help with activities of daily life, characterizing them as helpless is demeaning and, quite frankly, inaccurate.
The bill under consideration today will benefit our Nation's veterans and deserves the support of all Members of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
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