VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony


            

Statement of  

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA

  

 

Submitted By

 Sandra A. Miller

Chair
Vietnam Veterans of America
Homeless Veterans Task Force

Before the

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Regarding

The Department of Veterans Affairs
Homeless Programs

March 16, 2006



Mr. Chairman, and members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, my name is Sandra A. Miller. I served as a Senior Enlisted Woman in the U.S. Navy from 1975 until 1981 and am currently Chair of Vietnam Veterans of America’s Task Force on Homeless Veterans. I work daily with homeless veterans as Program Coordinator of a ninety-five bed transitional residence, one of the many programs provided by The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center to an exclusive veteran population for over twenty-five years.

On behalf of VVA, I thank you and your colleagues for this opportunity to submit testimony sharing our views on the status of homeless assistance programs for veterans funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

VA HOMELESS GRANT & PER DIEM PROGRAM

The VA Homeless Grant & Per Diem Program (HGPD) has been in existence since 1994. Since then, thousands of homeless veterans have availed themselves of the programs provided by community-based service providers. The need is still present. VVA seeks $200 million to be made available in the VA FY’07 budget for the VA HGPD Program and funded through FY’2011.

In some areas of this country the VA and community-based service providers work successfully in a collaborative effort to actively address homelessness among veterans. The community-based service providers are able to supply much-needed services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. The VA recognizes this and encourages residential and service center programs in areas where homeless veterans would most benefit.

The VA HGPD program offers funding in a highly competitive grant round. Because financial resources available to HGPD are limited, the number of grants awarded and the dollars granted are restrictive: VVA believes that legislation must be enacted to make VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem funding a payment rather than a reimbursement of expenses. This is an important change that will assist community-based organizations to deliver services in a financially effective and resourceful manner, allowing for an efficient method to cover discretionary expenses related to affiliated program functions within the non-profit agency.

HGPD PER DIEM ONLY GRANTS

Another component of the HGPD program is the award of Per Diem Only (PDO) grants. These grants do not contain any “bricks and mortar” dollars. The PDO grants must be renewed on a regular basis (currently, every three years). VVA applauds the efforts of the VA in the readdress of the renewal process for PDO programs, allowing them to renew without competition with new grant requests. This permits an existing program to stand proud on its merits, achievements, and positive outcomes.

SHARED LEASE AGREEMENTS

Some of the HGPD recipient programs have entered into Shared Lease Agreements with local VA Medical Centers, utilizing dormant, unoccupied space. The non-profit agency for which I work has taken advantage of this opportunity, a cooperative venture with the Coatesville VA Medical Center. We have a long-standing and strong working relationship with its leadership and staff. Additionally, we have received continued support from VISN 4.

The strength of the VA–non-profit relationship is unique to each medical center and agency. Each must have a clear understanding of the services and assistance they can lend to each other to enhance local homeless veteran programs. VVA recognizes that a strong collaboration between the VA and the non-profit brings greater resources to address issues faced by homeless veterans in local communities.

The issue of shared lease agreements, however, does require attention. There is no uniform policy in the contractual VA Memorandums of Agreement leasing fees that community-based service providers pay for use of vacant VA spaces. The amounts range across a wide spectrum. This is an inequitable procedure and requires immediate redress. There needs to be a standard, set calculation, with built-in geographic considerations, on the amounts community-based service providers pay for usage of otherwise vacant or unused facilities. This policy must also be driven by considerations beyond cost: the mission must be calculated into the equation. For many of the community-based service providers who are small non-profit agencies, a uniform calculation would provide additional funds to be utilized in the direct provision of services to homeless veterans. As determined by the VA’s own calculations for per diem eligibility, non-profits can only obtain per diem equal to, but not in excess of, the cost of the program. Non-profits don’t get rich off VA per diem dollars.

With this said, I will again reiterate that per diem funding should be a payment rather than a reimbursement. Considering the minimal daily amount of money provided to assist veterans in a residential program and the limited budget provided to VA for HGPD, the cost of program audits could be saved and the accounting process stream-lined. At the very least VVA believes that the residential fees paid by veterans in these programs should not be subtracted from the overall cost of the program in determining the amount of per diem for which the agency is eligible. This current process makes it difficult to justify what little per diem is available to the agency.

PROGRAMS FOR HOMELESS WOMEN VETERANS AND CHILDREN

It is a national scandal that so many men – and, increasingly, women – who have served our nation do not have a roof over their head, a place to call home. Although there are many reasons that have caused them to become homeless, they deserve our best efforts to help them salvage their lives.

VVA commends the VA for its FY2000 initiative specifically targeting homeless women veterans, with the creation of eleven pilot programs located in VA’s across the country. These pilot programs have reached initial completion and the VA North East Program Evaluation Center is analyzing the outcome data. While we realize continuance of these programs is heavily weighted by program outcomes, we urge the VA – and specifically the VISN Directors – to continue funding and staffing these women veteran-specific homeless programs.

The profound significance of these pilot programs, as seen in the lives of the homeless women who are participants, begs serious consideration. Because VA homeless domiciliaries are primarily utilized by male veterans, women find it difficult to acclimate themselves to the male-dominated residential structure, not only in light of their small representation in the population, but also because of past personal histories which include a significant occurrence of sexual abuse and trauma.

Over the past ten to fifteen years the VA has made great advancements in the treatment, care and benefits for women veterans. One does wonder if they are prepared for the numbers yet to come. However, when we address the issue of women in the homeless domiciliaries, we must not overlook the aspect of safety and security. VVA believes women veterans require segregated residential space. We believe this will also enhance the therapeutic setting.

With so few VA homeless women residential programs, VVA maintains there should be a stronger emphasis on establishing residential programs for homeless women veterans. The funding or contract arrangement for them should be considered outside the HGPD program. Community-based partnerships are especially vital when we consider the number of dependent of children who factor into this equation.

The VA “Special Needs” Grants have been a recent investment placing direct funding to community programs that provide residence to “special” populations, one of which is women. This funding must not be lost. It is vital when dealing with homeless populations whose demand for care can be so much more costly.

VA HOMELESS DOMICILIARY PROGRAMS

Domiciliary programs located within various medical centers throughout the VA system have proven costly. As stand alone programs, many do not display a high rate of long-term success. During this time of fiscal restraint, programs assisting homeless veterans need to show a cost/benefit ratio in order to survive. Due to the federal pay scales and other indirect cost factors, VA Homeless Domiciliary programs generally cost twice as much per homeless veteran participant (often over $100 per day per veteran) as those programs of community-based organizations. If the operational cost of the VA Homeless Domiciliary program is to be justified, then an assurance of veteran success and a diminished rate of recidivism should be expected. This is not always the case and is especially true if the veteran has no linked transitional residential placement at discharge.

A linkage with non-profit community programs will enhance outcomes in a cost-effective manner and openly speak to the belief in the “continuum of care” concept embraced by VA. HGPD has increased transitional placement possibilities in a number of areas, but more are desperately needed.

Where no VA Homeless Veteran Domiciliary exists, VVA urges the VA to form an active linkage with community based organizations for extended homeless veteran transitional services at the conclusion of VA Homeless Domiciliary care.

HOMELESS VETERANS REINTEGRATION PROGRAM

VVA urges full funding to the authorized level of $50 million for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) administered by the Department of Labor (DoL) from FY’07 through FY’2011. This training and employment initiative has proven to be cost-effective. Congress should also expand the eligible population for HVRP to include veterans at imminent risk of homelessness so that HVRP may have both preventative and remedial purposes. Only through re-training can we expect to place many of the homeless veterans in the employment market. Without re-training and employment, many of these veterans will not be able to regain a sense of self-worth, purpose, and direction.

HUD/VASH

In 1992, VA joined with HUD to launch the HUD-VASH program. HUD funded almost 600 vouchers each (a total of 1,753) for this program. Through the end of FY’02, the program had served 4,300 veterans. This successful program was given additional HUD-VASH vouchers with the passage of P.L.107-95, section 12. However, HUD, a very large player in the effort to end homelessness, has not requested appropriations for the additional HUD-VASH vouchers. VVA believes this program should be extended until 2010 and these vouchers should be included as budget language in HUD’s FY’07, FY’08, FY’09 and FY’10 budgets.

STUDY OF LOW-INCOME VETERANS' PERMANENT HOUSING NEEDS

The federal government makes a sizeable investment in homeownership opportunities for veterans, there is no parallel national rental housing assistance program targeted to low-income veterans. Veterans are not well served through existing housing assistance programs due to their program designs. Low-income veterans in and of themselves are not a priority population for subsidized housing assistance. And HUD devotes minimal attention to the housing needs of low--income veterans. As exemplified by, the long-standing vacancy in the position of special assistant for veterans programs within the Office of Community Planning and Development. It is imperative that Congress elevate national attention to the housing assistance needs of our nation's low-income veterans. Congress has taken initial steps in this regard by including language within the report to accompany the final FY2006 military construction and veterans 'affairs appropriations measure requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on housing assistance to low-income veterans. The study is due in spring 2006. But we have heard nothing about its progress. VVA urges the Senate Veterans Affairs committee to ensure GAO's timely completion of this required study.

SUPPORTIVE SERVICES FOR SPECIAL NEEDS DEMONSTRATION GRANTS

Our country’s homeless problem is a national disgrace that refuses to fade. Homelessness has varied definitions and many contributing factors. Among these are PTSD, a lack of job skills and education, substance abuse, and mental health problems. The homeless require far more than just a home. A comprehensive, individualized assessment and a rehabilitation/treatment program are necessary, utilizing the continuum of care concept. Assistance in obtaining economic stability for a successful self-sufficient transition back into the community is vital. Although many need help with permanent housing, some require long-term residential care.

With this in mind, VVA recommends that the annual funding level be increased to $20 million through FY’2011, and to retain language in Section 2061(c)(2) of title 38 that the funds directed to special needs not be allocated through the VERA funding model. The VA grant and per diem program provides a cost-effective model that could close the critical gap for veterans who are women, those who are frail elderly, terminally ill, or have a chronic mental illness and are not ready, and may not become ready, to move from transitional program to self-sufficiency.

DENTAL CARE

VVA is requesting a revision of the 60-day rule and fully implement the dental care program for all eligible veterans in accordance of Section 2062(b) of title 38 under P.L. 107-95.

VBA REGIONAL OFFICE STAFFING

Because the claims for compensation/pension of thousands of homeless veterans are in adjudication limbo, VVA believes that these claims should be fast-tracked, and that the Veterans Benefits Administration hold managers accountable for developing sufficient training in all areas required under P.L. 107-95. VVA also recommends to better serve our homeless veterans this provision of the law be made permanent.

LOAN GUARANTEE FOR MULTFAMIY TRANSITIONAL HOUSING FOR HOMELESS VETERANS

VVA believes the VA is long overdue in implementing Section 601 of P.L. 105-368. It has always been our understanding that this program was to provide a housing option for a period longer no than two years, the average length of time a homeless veteran spends in a traditional transitional living arrangement. The intent, as we understand it, is to provide long-term housing options for homeless veterans.

VVA continues to object to legislation that would move this program from a loan program to a grant program and, in the process, change it from mandatory to discretionary funding. This would alter the original intent of the statute, which is to infuse private capital into the effort to remediate the problem. If the sense of Congress is to be met, VVA asks for full funding of P.L.105-368 and P.L.107-95. Without full funding, achieving the sense of Congress will not be met, and potentially thousands of homeless veterans who are ready to become productive members of their community will have an additional burden to overcome.

“SUPPORTIVE SERVICES ONLY” PROGRAMS

VVA realizes that, to a certain extent, the budget drives the ability of the VA to fund HGPD programs. Consider these few items: the VA’s limited funding ability; the decreasing desire of HUD to fund Supportive Services programs; the HUD disincentives placed on cities to renew McKinney-Vento funded supportive services programs; the impact that lost supportive service programs will have on the local social service system. Drop in Centers are one type of programs that utilize homeless grants for what is known as “Supportive Services Only” (SSO) funding. HUD funds these SSO programs via the local agency’s inclusion on their local City’s priority list for its annual HUD McKinney-Vento submission. When originally funded the agency was required to commit to a twenty year operational program It is unclear to VVA how many SSO programs are effected by this recent trend in the denial of renewals. However, in as an example, this year Philadelphia had determined not to renew HUD funding for a minimum of twelve “supportive services only” programs previously funded through its continuum of care consolidated plan. SSO programs targeting homeless veterans are included in this evolving funding atmosphere. Our question is to what extent are the cities responsible for the continued renewals of programs that were previously vital to the local continuum?

We ask this in light of the twenty-year financial burden of commitment required by small non-profit agencies when they are originally awarded their grants and led to believe they are a crucial component and partner to the comprehensive approach to the elimination of homelessness. To suggest the non-profits find alternate funding in order to continue and satisfy the twenty-year commitment seems unrealistic in light of the very limited grant funding available for such SSO programs. In some instances this could ultimately lead to the death of some non-profit agencies…the life line of not only the agencies homeless clients, but also to some of the city social service agencies that depend on the agency to assist with clients in an already over-burdened local service system.

At a time when the big push is on permanent housing for the homeless, with wrap around supportive services, is it logical to eliminate these programs on the community level? In light of this situation and as a logical fit, VVA believes it is time for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enter this arena. It is in fact quite logical. We urge this committee to encourage HHS to work with VA in establishing a unique partnership, creating a joint program in an effort to provide enhanced opportunities to homeless veterans through a collaborative agency process. VVA urges dialog between these two agencies in an effort to reach a viable option to the threatening situation that is facing the non-profits of this country that are gravely concerned about their own demise. What a terrible loss this would be to the structure of community involvement that has been so encouraged.

THE INTERAGENCY COUNCIL ON HOMELESS

Community providers across the country had great hopes for the Presidential Interagency Council on Homeless (ICH), thinking it would translate to local, on the ground, resources…down where the rubber hits the road, in the local community agencies and programs. They found this not to be the case and this they have found very disappointing. They believed it would produce more cooperative federal agency action, not just talk. But even that seems to be falling off. We strongly urge this committee to inquire as to why the Senior Working Group of the ICH have not met in the recent past, actually in a very long time, and why this group does not meet on a regular basis. Homeless providers were led to believe this was an important initiative.

THANK YOU

In closing, VVA recognizes the tremendous strides that have been made by Department of Veterans Affairs in addressing and providing services for homeless veterans. We want to cite Pete Dougherty and his staff for their continued commitment to our homeless veterans. We must work together in a bipartisan manner to improve long-term services for our homeless veterans with better planning in areas of employment, special need, transitional/permanent housing, dental and childcare programs, if we are to succeed in meeting the President’s goal of ending chronic homelessness within 10 years.

In conclusion, VVA thanks the Chairman and members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the attention you give to the needs of all our veterans and for allowing us to enter this statement for the record.


VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
Funding Statement
March 16, 2006

The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veteran’s membership organization registered as a 501(c) (19) with the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.

For Further Information, Contact:
Director of Government Relations
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000 ext. 127


SANDRA A. MILLER


Sandra A. Miller currently serves as Chair of Vietnam Veterans of America Task Force on Homeless Veterans and is a member of the Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Advisory Committee. She served as a Senior Enlisted Woman in the U.S. Navy from 1975 until 1981.

Ms. Miller currently works as the Program Coordinator at LZ II Transitional Residence, a 95-bed transitional facility for homeless male veterans in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. LZ II Transitional Residence is a program of The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center, operating under a shared lease agreement with the Coatesville VA Medical Center. She is responsible for the overall day-to-day operations, seeing to the needs of homeless veterans in transition and overseeing all staff and program components. She has been a volunteer at Philadelphia Stand Down since 1995.

During Ms. Miller’s military service, she received the National Defense Service Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Navy Meritorious Unit Citation w/1 Bronze Device (2 awards), Zaire Airlift Letter of Commendation, U.S. Naval Forces Europe Letter of Appreciation, and numerous Command Petty Officer of the Quarter awards. Ms. Miller was awarded the AT&T Microelectronics National Volunteer of the Year in 1995 and the Lucent Technologies Humanitarian Service Award in 1996. She also received Vietnam Veterans of America, Region II James “Pop” Johnson Memorial Distinguished Service Award in 1998 and the Chapel of Four Chaplains, Legion of Honor Award, in September 2000 for her work with homeless veterans.

She currently resides in Douglassville, Pennsylvania.
 

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