Hearing Of The House Subcommittee On Health Of The House Committee On Veterans' Affairs - Legislative Hearing On H.R. 1017, H.R. 1036, H.R. 2504, H.R. 2559, H.R. 2735, H.R. 3073, H.R. 3441, H.R. 2506, And Draft Discussions On Homelessness, Graduate Psychology Education, And Psychiatric Service Dogs
Thank you Chairman Michaud, Ranking Member Brown, Members and staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Health for inviting me here today. As a former Member of this Subcommittee, it's always a pleasure to be in this room among friends who are so dedicated to the welfare of our nation's heroes.
I come before you today to present testimony on legislation I introduced, H.R. 2559, the Help Our Homeless Veterans Act. This bill directs the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out a national media campaign directed at homeless Veterans and Veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless to help end this growing problem.
The number of homeless Veterans is rising and must be addressed. Veterans are overrepresented in our nation's homeless population. In fact, they make up about one-third of our country's homeless. On any given night this year, 131,000 Veterans are sleeping on the streets. This year alone, 300,000 Veterans will experience homelessness.
Vietnam Veterans represent the largest segment of the homeless Veteran population. Now, at a time with the highest unemployment rate in 26 years, with more and more service members returning home from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of Veterans who are unable to make ends meet and face the prospect of homelessness is growing. The VA estimates that it already provides services to 916 Veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the VA has identified over 2,986 Veterans that are at risk of becoming homeless.
Additionally, there has been an alarming increase in the number of female homeless Veterans. The VA estimates that 10 percent of all homeless Veterans are now women. This means that about 740 female Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are homeless, or have been identified as being at risk of becoming homeless. These numbers are simply unacceptable.
Addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans National Conference, Secretary Shinseki said, "We have a moral duty to prevent and eliminate homelessness among Veterans." I could not agree more and I applaud the Secretary for his commitment to end Veterans homelessness in the next 5 years.
In order to meet this goal, I strongly believe that the VA must immediately begin conducting media outreach to connect homeless Veterans to available programs, services and benefits.
That is why I introduced the Help our Homeless Veterans Act. This bill will mandate that the Secretary dedicate funding to establish a national media outreach campaign on homelessness. This campaign will be designed to educate Veterans about where they can turn if they are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Mr. Chairman, since the VA's internal ban on paid public advertising has been lifted, the VA has carried out one media campaign about the availability of an emotional crisis hotline, which I understand has been remarkably successful in preventing suicide among Veterans. Thus, I believe that using the media to educate Veterans about available services has proven to be effective, and I believe we can use it as a tool to reach those who are at risk of becoming homeless, as well as those who have already found themselves on the streets.
Ultimately, it is my hope that with increased awareness and information about VA homelessness prevention and homeless services among Veterans themselves, advocacy groups, families and the public, we can prevent Veterans from becoming homeless, and inform those who are homeless about services available to them.
We owe a tremendous debt to those who have served our country in uniform, and it is time that we show these heroes the appropriate respect. With the enactment of the Help Our Homeless Veterans Act, I believe that we can make a strident effort in ending homelessness among our Veterans.
Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, I thank you again for this opportunity to testify and will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.