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
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.
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
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.
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
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
believes that to adequately serve this growing special population
of veterans, additional funding is required. We recommend an
additional $10 million over FY08.
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.
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
"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
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
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,
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.