VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony
Statement for the Record

 

Submitted By

Sharon Hodge
Assistant Director for Policy and Government Affairs

Before the

 

Subcommittee on Health

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Concerning

 

H.R. 2699

 

June 21, 2007


Chairman Michaud, Ranking Member Miller, and members the Subcommittee on Health.  Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) appreciates the opportunity to submit our views for the record regarding proposed legislation enhancing mental health programs for homeless veterans. On behalf of our officers, our Board of Directors, our members and their families, we want to thank you for the important work you are doing, and the initiatives you are taking, on behalf of our nation’s veterans.

H.R.2699

It is a national disgrace that so many veterans – upwards of 200,000, according to most estimates – do not have a place to call home.  There are many causes of homelessness; in the case of too many veterans, their experiences in combat are likely one of the reasons they have “dropped out” of society and self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs.

Title VII of Public Law 109-461, The Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, clearly reaffirms the national goal to end chronic homelessness among veterans, as well as its “encouragement that all departments and agencies of the Federal, State, and local governments, quasi-governmental organizations, private and public sector entities, including community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and individuals, work cooperatively to end chronic homelessness among veterans.”

As outlined in PL 109-461, it is the sense of Congress that:

Homelessness is a significant problem in the veterans’ community and veterans are disproportionately represented among the homeless population. While many effective programs assist homeless veterans to become productive and self-sufficient members of their communities,

  • all the essential services, assistance, and support that homeless veterans require are not currently provided; 
  • federally funded programs for homeless veterans should be held accountable for achieving clearly defined results;
  • federal efforts to assist homeless veterans should include prevention of homelessness;
  • federal efforts regarding homeless veterans should be particularly vigorous where women veterans have minor children in their care;
  • federal agencies, particularly the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development, should cooperate more fully to address the problem of homelessness among veterans; and
  • the programs reauthorized by this title provide important housing and services to homeless veterans.

It is VVA’s considered position that VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem funding must be considered a payment rather than a reimbursement for expenses, an important change that will enable community-based organizations that deliver the majority of these services to operate effectively. 

Non-profits have long struggled with the process used to justify the receipt of the per diem payments for Homeless Grant and Per Diem (HGPD) programs.  Although the amount of the money received per veteran per day provided as per diem has increased over time, the requirements to provide documentation to meet a 100% cost expense has created a significant burden on the non-profits.

The expenses incurred by a non-profit agency often require discretionary dollars to pay for a variety of necessary expenses.  Grants, however, are restrictive and many of the expenses incurred by programs are not allowable under grant regulations, particularly those in the arena of administrative and operational dollars, and building and maintenance expenses.   These expenses could be charged to the cost of the HGPD program if the per diem program was the only program of the agency.  However, if an agency that operates the per diem program is located on a site other than the per diem program facility, these expenses cannot be applied to HGPD. Without the upkeep and solvency of the parent agency, the per diem program could not function.  Because the HGPD program could not exist without the home agency, some of the expenses of the agency therefore should be directly allowable as expenses to the program.

Programs are not required to charge residential fees from its residents.  The agencies do so in large measure to meet the financial burden of the agency that the program has created.  These residential funds could be utilized as discretionary funds to assist the agency in the offset of agency expenses as noted above.

The burden created by the legislative requirement to deduct these residential payments from the cost of the program expenses prior to submitting the cost of the program to the HGPD office on the annual audit exposes the agencies to shortfalls in program costs that result in the inability of many agencies to obtain maximum per diem payments.

Congress saw it appropriate to link the amount of HGPD payments to those of the VA State Home payments.  Non-profits are looking to Congress to relieve them of the burden of submitting audits in order to receive per diem payments.  Non-profits are not getting rich on these payments.  Certainly it is time-consuming not to mention expensive for VA audits of all these HGPD program agencies.

SECTION 2:  EXPANSION OF ELIGIBILITY FOR DENTAL CARE.

VVA supports the provisions in the bill that would completely remove the 60-day period of receiving care directly or by contract in which homeless veterans rated 100 percent service-connected must qualify for dental care at a VA hospital or clinic as stated under Section 2062(b) of Title 38 US Code.  Also, VVA believes that this benefit should extend to homeless veterans or disabled veterans who are not rated at 100 for service-connection and who received an honorable discharge.

SECTION 3:  VHA STAFF AT VISN LEVEL

VVA supports the intent of the language in the bill but believes that VHA is doing a commendable job in providing services to homeless veterans in the 22 VISNs.  According to the VA, Homeless Veteran Coordinators are located at all the VISNs.  The Homeless Coordinator provides outreach, case management, referrals to benefits counselors, linkage to health care, and housing assistance.  Each VHA facility is unique and services vary among each medical center.   However, we do feel that the VBA Regional Office needs additional staff to assist in handling homeless veterans’ claims.  The 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 section 2003(a) of P.L. 107-95.   VVA also recommends that this provision of the law be made permanent

 

SECTION 4:  EMERGENCY GRANTS FOR REPLACEMENT OR REPAIR OF HOMELESS VETERANS FACILITIES – The VA Secretary can make an emergency grant to an eligible entity that provides care for homeless veterans for the purposes of repairing or replacing facilities to provide such care, if such facilities are damaged or destroyed (Sandy does VVA have a position on this)?

2044 PILOT PROGRAM FOR PROVISION OF PERMANENT HOUSING FOR HOMELESS VETERANS (five-year pilot funding at $10,000,000 beginning in FY08)

The homeless require far more than just a roof over their heads at night. 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.  Among these are veterans afflicted with PTSD, and who lack marketable job skills and education, and have substance abuse, and mental health problems.

At a time when the big push is on permanent housing for the homeless, the federal government makes a sizeable investment in homeownership opportunities for veterans.  However, there is no parallel national rental housing assistance program targeted to low-income veterans. Veterans are not well-served through existing housing assistance programs. 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.

VVA believes it is time for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enter this arena.  We urge this committee to encourage HHS to work with the VA in establishing a unique partnership, creating a joint program in an effort to provide enhanced opportunities for homeless veterans through a collaborative agency process. VVA urges a continuing dialogue between these two agencies in an effort to reach a viable option to the threatening situation that is facing the non-profits gravely concerned about their own potential demise. What a terrible loss this would be to the structure of community involvement that has been so encouraged.

VVA supports the intent of establishing a pilot program to permanently house homeless veterans, but this program must provide supportive services, for without this key element VVA believes the programs will fail.

To amend Title 38 US Code, to enhance readjustment counseling and mental health services for veterans. 

Veterans who live in rural settings have poor access to convenient, quality health care and have greater health care needs. The VA is struggling and often failing to do right by the many veterans with serious combat injuries who need closely supervised care but live in remote areas and have to travel long distances to reach the nearest VA hospital  (The average distance for rural veterans to obtain care is 63 miles, according to the National Rural Health Association).

There is evidence the VA has known for some time about the need to focus more on rural care. A 2004 VA study of 750,000 veterans found that those living in rural areas tended to have more serious and costly health problems than their urban counterparts.  As our battles on the Global War on Terror and in Iraq continue to create veterans, the VA could cite the good work done at its 209 Vet Centers, places for readjustment counseling. Yet many Vet Centers have been forced to ration services, create waiting lists, and limit individual counseling sessions due to significant increases in demand for services from returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.  For half of these centers, this increase has affected their ability to treat the existing client workload; and 40 percent have directed veterans for whom individualized therapy would be appropriate to group therapy. More than one in four has limited or plans to limit veterans’ access to marriage or family therapy. Almost one in five has or plans to establish waiting lists

At a time when so many new veterans are returning to our shores with many of the same mental health issues that have plagued veterans from previous generations, American women soldiers and marines are being seared by combat for the first time.  The VA system that is supposed to help them is failing in its obligation to provide timely, quality care for these women and men. VVA supports this legislation for the enhancement of readjustment counseling and mental health services for OIF and OEF veterans.

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
Funding Statement

June 21, 2007

 

The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans 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:
         Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000, extension 127


SHARON HODGE


Sharon Hodge currently serves as Associate Director of Government Relations. She develops legislative and regulatory strategies at the national level and advises the Director on issues concerning veterans’ advocacy programs, legislative issues and strategies based on Convention resolutions, National board directives, and policy decisions.

Ms. Hodge was awarded a 2005 Certificate of Appreciation from National President, Vietnam Veterans of America; a 2005 Certificate of Appreciation from Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America; a 2000 Certificate of Appreciation from the Washington, DC, VAMC Winterhaven; a 2000 Certificate of Appreciation from Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America; a 1999 Certificate of Appreciation from the VVA Nebraska State Council; the 1998 The Chapel of Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Award; and the 1997 Government Affairs Special Recognition Award, from Vietnam Veterans of America.

Ms. Hodge works tirelessly as an advocate on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Among her many accomplishments, she established a grassroots online advocacy network and effectively recruited more than 500 legislative coordinators. She organized a grassroots advocacy campaign in 2000 that successfully advocated enactment of the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act. P.L. 107-95.

She has two children and currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland


BERNARD EDELMAN

Bernard Edelman, deputy director for policy and government affairs, has worked for VVA for four-plus years.  Previously, he had served as director of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs of the City of New York under Mayor Edward I. Koch.

Edelman spent most of 1970 in Vietnam, where he served as a broadcast specialist/combat correspondent.  He was co-curator of the first Vietnam art exhibit in New York.  Appointed by Mayor Koch to the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission in 1982, he edited the book Dear America:  Letters Home from Vietnam, which was borne of the design of the memorial.  He was associate producer of the Emmy- and Peabody award-winning documentary feature based on his book; he was co-producer of the documentary short, “Memorial:  Letters from American Soldiers,” which was nominated for an Academy Award.

He has worked as a writer, editor, and photographer.  In addition to Dear America, he is the author of Centenarians:  The Story of the 20th Century by the Americans Who Lived It and contributed a chapter on the ground war in Vietnam in the recently published Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land.

He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1968 with a B.A.  He earned his M.A. in criminal justice from John Jay College, also of the City University of New York.  He lives with his wife and son in Bethesda, Maryland.

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