VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
Of
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA  

Submitted by

Sandra A. Miller
Chair

Homeless Veterans Committee
 
Before the

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee
Regarding 
Ending Homelessness for our Nation’s Veterans
April, 9 2008

 
 

Mr. Chairman, and members of the House 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 I currently chair Vietnam Veterans of America’s (VVA) Homeless Veterans Committee.  Perhaps more importantly, I work with homeless veterans as the daily Program Coordinator of a transitional residence, one of the many programs provided by The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center.  Our transitional residence receives funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program (HGPD) and operates under a shared lease agreement on the grounds of the Coatesville VA Medical Center.  

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 conducted by the VA.

Homelessness continues to be a significant problem for veterans. The VA estimates about one-third of the adult homeless population have served their country in the Armed Services. Current population estimates suggest that about 154,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year.

Federal efforts regarding homeless veterans must be particularly vigorous for women veterans with minor children in their care. And those federal agencies that have responsibilities in addressing this situation, particularly the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development, must work in concert and should be held accountable for achieving clearly defined results.

VA HOMELESS GRANT & PER DIEM PROGRAM 
The VA’s Homeless Grant & Per Diem Program has been in existence since 1994.  Since then, thousands of homeless veterans have availed themselves of the programs provided by community-based service providers.  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 and hence many geographic areas in need suffer a loss that HGPD could address. 

It has been VVA’s position that VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem funding must be considered a payment rather than a reimbursement for expenses, an important distinction that will enable the community-based organizations that deliver the majority of these services to operate more effectively. Per diem dollars received by services centers are not capable of obtaining or retaining appropriate staffing to provide services supporting the special needs of the veterans seeking assistance. Per diem for service centers is provided on an hourly rate, currently only $3.91 per hour. The reality is that most city and municipality social services do not have the knowledge or capacity to provide appropriate supportive services that directly involve the treatment, care, and entitlements of veterans.

Veterans are disproportionately represented among the homeless population, accounting, according to most estimates, for one in three homeless persons on any given night – and roughly 400,000 veterans over the course of a year.  VA's Grant and Per Diem program is effective in creating and aiding local shelters by providing transitional housing, vocational rehabilitation, and referrals for clinical services. 

VVA is recommending that Congress go above the authorizing level for the Homeless Grant and Per Diem program and fund the program at $200 million and not the $138 million authorized. Additionally, VVA supports and seeks legislation to establish Supportive Services Assistance Grants for VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem Service Center Grant awardees.

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.  Additionally, not all VISNs even have Homeless Domiciliary programs. 
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 programs of community-based organizations. If the operational cost of the VA Homeless Domiciliary program is to be justified, then an assurance of success, including 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 time of 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 the 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 SPECIAL NEEDS
VVA urges the Presidential Interagency Council on Homeless to recognize homeless veterans as a Special Needs Population. Further, we urge Congress to require all entities/agencies, including non-profit and governmental, that receive federal program funding dollars, to report statistics on the number of veterans they serve, their residential status, and the services needed and provided. Additionally, VVA supports legislation that would incorporate a “fair share” dollar approach for the federal funding of all homeless programs and services to specifically target homeless veterans.

HOMELESS WOMEN VETERANS
Women comprise a growing segment of the Armed Forces, and thousands have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the 154,000 homeless veterans estimated by the VA, women make up 3 percent of that population.  The VA must be prepared to provide services to these former servicemembers in appropriate settings. 

One of the confounding factors with homeless women veterans is the sexual trauma many if not most of them suffered during their service to our nation. Few of us can know the dark places in which those who have suffered as the result of rape and physical abuse must live every day. It is a very long road to find the path that leads them to some semblance of “normalcy” and helps them escape from the secluded, lonely, fearful, angry corner in which they have been hiding. Not all residential programs are designed to treat mental health problems of this very vulnerable population. In light of the high incidence of past sexual trauma, rape, and domestic violence, many of these women find it difficult, if not impossible, to share residential programs with their male counterparts. They openly discuss their concern for a safe treatment setting, especially where the treatment unit layout does not provide them with a physically segregated, secured area. In light of the nature of some of their personal and trauma issues, they also discuss the need for gender-specific group sessions, The VA requests that all residential treatment areas be evaluated for the ability to provide and facilitate these services, and that medical centers develop plans to ensure this accommodation.

While some facilities have found innovative solutions to meet the unique needs of women veterans, others are still lagging behind.  VVA believes that to adequately serve this growing special population of veterans, additional funding is required.  We recommend an additional $10 million over FY08.

HUD-VASH
In 1992, the VA joined with HUD to launch the HUD-VASH program. HUD funded almost 600 vouchers for this program. Through the end of FY’02, 4,300 veterans had been served by the program, and had participated for an average of 4.1 years. Of veterans enrolled in the program, 90 percent successfully obtained vouchers and 87 percent moved into an apartment of their own. This partnership highlights the success of linking ongoing clinical care to permanent housing to assist homeless chronically mentally ill veterans. This program was given additional HUD-VASH vouchers with the passage of P.L.107-95, which authorized 500 HUD/VASH vouchers in FY’03, 1,000 in FY’04, 1,500 in FY’05, and 2,000 in FY’06. The program was reauthorized under Section 710, Rental Assistance Vouchers for Veterans Affairs Supported Housing Program, with the passage of PL 109-461, which authorized 500 vouchers for FY ’07, 1,000 vouchers for FY’08, 1,500 vouchers for FY’09, 2,000 vouchers for FY’10 and 2,500 vouchers for FY’11.

VVA applauds the Senate Appropriations Committee for having funded $75,000,000 for the HUD-VASH Program in Public Law 110-161. The vouchers created by this funding will prove paramount in addressing the permanent housing needs of our less fortunate veterans. By allocating this funding, Congress has given providers the greatest tool possible in our fight to end homelessness among our veterans. VVA supports the FY’09 appropriations request from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for $75,000,000, which will provide an additional 10,000 vouchers. If enacted into law, some 20,000 vouchers will now be available to assist homeless veterans. VVA urges this committee to reach out to your colleagues and request their support of these vouchers.

"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 disincentives placed by HUD on cities to renew the McKinney-Vento supportive services program; the impact that lost supportive service programs will have on the local social service system. Drop-in centers are one type of program 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 city’s priority list for its annual HUD McKinney-Vento submission. When originally funded, an agency was required to commit to a 20-year operational program. 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 20-year financial burden of commitment required by small non-profit agencies when they are originally awarded 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 a commitment over 20 years seems unrealistic in light of the very limited grant funding available for these 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 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 wraparound 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 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 to homeless veterans. VVA urges a continuing dialogue between these two agencies to reach a viable option to the 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.

PERMANENT HOUSING NEEDS for LOW-INCOME VETERANS
Although 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. This has been made abundantly clear by the long-standing vacancy for 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.

P.L 105-276, The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 under Title III, permanently repealed federal preferences for public housing and allowed the Public Housing Authority to establish preference for low-income veterans applying for public housing. In accordance with the GAO report, “Rental Housing Information on Low-Income Veterans Housing Condition and Participation in HUD’s Programs,” only a few of the PHAs surveyed were using veterans’ preference criteria to assist low income veterans with housing. VVA has found no mention of these guidelines in any of the five-year plans issued by the PHAs since the law was passed in 1998, which means HUD is once again creating homeless veterans by not abiding by and instead overlooking laws mandated by Congress.

VVA is requesting that this committee support H.R 3329, the Homes for Heroes Act 2007 introduced by Representative Al Green, which would repeal the 1998 decision and provide additional benefits and services to homeless veterans. VVA also encourages this committee to begin open dialogue with your colleagues on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies for they are a willing partner in ending homeliness among veterans.

Lastly, VVA urges full funding to the authorized level of $50 million for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) administered by the Department of Labor. This training/employment program has long suffered the consequences of limited funding.  How can the DOL extol a commitment to the training of homeless veterans and deny them the full funding that has been requested under P.L. 107-95 and P.L. 109-233?

Former Congressman Lane Evans, in a 1994 statement before the full House of Representatives, explained, "Veterans are veterans no matter what else has transpired in their lives. These men and women served our nation. Providing them with their rightful benefits can only remind them of their prior commitment to society, promote their sense of self, and further their rehabilitation."

VVA strongly believes that homeless veterans have perhaps the best possibility for achieving rehabilitation because at an earlier point in their lives they did have a steady, responsible job and lifestyle in the military. We hope to recoup these individuals in the most efficient manner, thereby saving federal resources. And we must do so with bipartisan support from our Congressional leaders.

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
Funding Statement

April 9, 2008
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:
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 Homeless Veterans 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 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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