Good morning, Congressman Michaud, Congressman Miller, and other members of this distinguished subcommittee. Vietnam Veterans of America appreciates this opportunity to offer our comments about several very significant pieces of legislation up for consideration by this subcommittee today. Let me give our assessment of them in order.
H.R. 1017, the Chiropractic Care Available to All Veterans Act. This bill would require the provision of chiropractic care and services to veterans at no fewer than 75 VA medical centers and would expand access to such care and services.
While VVA supports the enactment of this bill, we would suggest that this body consider looking into other alternative healthcare options that have shown varying degrees of effectiveness. These might include acupuncture, yoga, and ancient healing arts (such as ayurveda) and meditation/ relaxation techniques (such as qu gong) from India and China. These might include as well such modern relaxation techniques as biofeedback, which has proven successful in treating fibromyalgia, hypertension and certain heart conditions, and even traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
H.R. 1036, the Veterans Physical Therapy Services Improvement Act. This bill would establish the position of Director of Physical Therapy Service, as well as degree and license requirements for appointments to a physical therapist position. Additionally, this bill would establish VA Geriatric, Amputee, Polytrauma, and Rehabilitation Research Fellowships Program to assist in the recruitment of qualified physical therapists specializing in these areas.
VVA enthusiastically endorses this bill. VVA has long advocated that the Department of Veterans Affairs must offer “veteran-centric” healthcare that takes cognizance of the special health issues that afflict veterans far more than the civilian populace. We believe that, if enacted and properly staffed, it will add expertise in critical areas of healthcare treatment that are veteran-centric.
H.R. 3441 would provide for automatic enrollment into the VA medical system for veterans returning from combat zones.
For years, we have been hearing about the “seamless transition” of veterans from their branch of service to the VA, and specifically concerning their medical/health records. In reality, the transition has been anything but seamless, although there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Enactment of H.R. 3441 might bring us closer to the end of the tunnel.
However, the provision in this bill permitting a veteran to “disenroll” can potentially impact that veteran if, at some point in the future, s/he develops a health condition that derives from their time in service, e.g., from exposure to a toxic substance, for instance; or if that veteran, because of economic circumstances, needs to enroll in the VA healthcare system. We would suggest that counsel insert provisions into this bill to ensure that such a scenario could not happen should H.R. 3441 become the law of the land.
Draft legislation that would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to transfer funds to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for a graduate psychology education program.
On the surface, VVA would have no objections to such legislation. VVA first proposed “PTSD Scholarships” for Vietnam combat veterans in 1982. It was a good idea then, and it is a good idea for the young people returning from OIF/OEF today. However, we would suggest that it add provisions that would ensure that any student who benefits from such a program “owe” the VA a set number of years of service, much like the program(s) in the military in which a branch of service will pay for the training of a nurse or a lawyer in return for four or five years of service.
The next several bills address the persistent problem of homelessness among veterans.
H.R. 2504 would provide for an increase in the authorization from $150 million to $200 million to be appropriated for comprehensive service programs (Grant and Per Diem Program) for homeless veterans.
In testimony in April 2008, VVA recommended 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 $150 million authorized. This bill, if enacted, would fulfill that recommendation and would, we believe, help provide services to our veterans who are without homes.
H.R. 2559, the Help Our Homeless Veterans Act. This bill would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a national media campaign aimed at homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless, with special emphasis on women veterans.
The VA has both a legal responsibility and an ethical obligation to reach out to all veterans and their families to inform them of the benefits to which they are entitled. While providing VA medical centers with booklets and pamphlets is fine, these do little good if they do not get into the hands of the very poor who do not use the system, the “middle class” who use private physicians and who may be living from paycheck to paycheck, and some who, for so many reasons, either choose to or are forced to dissociate from society.
To reach these folks, the VA has had no real strategic plan. In fact, VA outreach to those who do not use VA facilities is negligible, and has been for a long, long time.
So, a strategic plan, aided perhaps by the Ad Council with input from the veterans’ service organizations, needs first to be well thought out, and then implemented. How much such an outreach effort will cost will be dependant on the media (TV and radio, billboards, electronic media) that are used. Part of such an outreach effort ought to include a “help line” modeled after the VA’s suicide hot line.
We would offer, too, that a plan that targets the homeless, or those at risk of incipient homelessness, ought to be part of a larger, more inclusive VA outreach strategy that informs veterans of the benefits they have earned by virtue of their military service, and that informs veterans of any health conditions that might derive from their time, and place, in service.
We maintain as well that there needs to be a separate line for “outreach” in the VA budget, including separate lines for outreach in the budgets of the various entities of the VA.
H.R. 2735 would make certain improvements to the comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans, to include: creating a separate grant fund for service center personnel; changing the rate of payment from a per diem daily cost of care to an annual cost of providing services, allowing the VA to increase the rate of payment to reflect the cost of providing services; and allowing providers to use per diem funds to match other funding sources.
One of the frontline outreach programs funded by the VA is Day Service Centers, sometimes referred to as Drop In Centers. These centers reach deep into the homeless veteran population that are still on the streets and in the shelters of our cities and towns. These centers receive rates based on an hourly calculation per diem ($4.30) for the time that a homeless veteran is actually on site in the center. While this amount may cover the cost of the coffee and food, it does not come close to covering the cost of the professional staff that must provide the assistance the veterans need long after they leave the facility.
Why should there be separate facilities to service veterans who are homeless? The reality is that most city and municipality social services simply do not have the knowledge or capacity to provide appropriate supportive services that directly involve the treatment, care, and entitlements of veterans. Hence, homeless veterans’ service centers are vital in any effort to get homeless veterans off the streets and into programs that they need to conquer homelessness and give them a fighting chance of integrating back into society.
Why not create “Service Center Staffing/Operational” grants, much like the VA “Special Needs” grants already in existence? VVA supports establishing Supportive Services Assistance Grants for VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem Service Center Grant awardees, which we would hope enactment of H.R. 2735 might accomplish.
H.R. 3073 would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish and fund at $100 million for each of fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013 a grant program to provide assistance to veterans at risk of becoming homeless. The program would provide funding to public entities and private non-profit organizations to make payments for up to three months to an eligible veteran's landlord, mortgage company, or utility company for amounts of rent, mortgage, or utility bills that are in arrears, as well as security deposits for rental properties. The programs also would provide supportive services, including job training and mental health and substance abuse treatment, to prevent these veterans from becoming homeless.
Such a program is no long-term solution. If enacted into law and properly translated from concept to reality, it could help stanch the descent of hundreds if not thousands of low-income veterans who, in this uncertain economy, are in fact in imminent danger of eviction or foreclosure and at risk of becoming homeless.
Draft Legislation to improve per diem payments for organizations assisting homeless veterans.
VVA has long contended 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.
We have wondered why this funding has not been considered a “fee for service” instead of a reimbursement. Such a change would pay existing and future grant awardees in a per diem program as contractors, much like that of the past programs. However now there would be a process for defined oversight in regard to annual inspections, services offered, and goals attained.
The amount of work and the staff time required to accommodate the current system for grant and per diem programs is a drain not only on staff time but, in many instances, on the fiscal solvency of an agency receiving such funding.
A key element in this bill notes that 25 percent of funds available for per diem grant payments would go to entities that must do more than just provide “three hots and a cot.” They must offer”transitional and supportive services” as prescribed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. VVA would suggest that far more than 25 percent of available funds ought to go to agencies that provide such services. The danger is that cities and towns and counties that provide shelters for their homeless populations will wind up competing with agencies that are actively working to bring services and assistance to veterans with the goal of successful community reintegration.
VVA would also add that an important per diem funding issue be added to this bill that addresses funding to an existing program for the expansion of its original program. In the past, some successful VA residential programs for homeless veterans identified a need for increased bed space based on the number of veterans requesting admission. These programs requested additional beds under a “per diem only,” or PDO, grant process and were awarded funds to increase their overall program beds.
However, because the original grant and the PDO grant were awarded at different times they have separate “project numbers,” even though both grants were for the same program with the same expenses. Hence, they are required to divide out by percentage the number of beds, and the per diem rates, under each project number in the required reporting to the VA. And everything related to the program has to be divided by percentages and every veteran who changes bedrooms has to be tracked by project number in applying for every month’s per diem reimbursement request. This is a bookkeeping nightmare. It can be alleviated, and some trees can be saved in the process, if the system insists on a single project number rather than the two it now requires.
Draft Bill, The End Veteran Homelessness Act. This bill would reform and expand the VA’s Supportive Housing Program carried out in concert with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
VVA applauds the Senate Appropriations Committee for having funded $75,000,000 for the HUD-VASH Program in Public Law 110-161. There is, however, a gap in HUD-VASH and the veterans eligible to receive the vouchers. This gap is hurting homeless veterans who need the most intensive intervention to help deal with the conditions that have rendered them homeless. Though HUD-VASH and the case management provided by the VA are significant, in far too many instances they are not intensive enough for those homeless veterans with severe mental health illnesses. Many of these veterans do not meet the criteria for Mental Health Intensive Case Management (MHICM) through the VA because they have not had multiple admissions to mental health facilities; they do not meet the criteria of HUD-VASH because they need such intensive case management. Hence, they are left with few, if any, chances or opportunities for independent living.
VVA certainly supports continued, and increased, funding for the existing HUD/VASH voucher program. This program is critical if we as a nation are to significantly reduce, if not necessarily eliminating, homelessness among our nation’s veterans.
Oversight of the HUD/VASH program will prove to be an invaluable tool in the continuance and expansion of this program. Oversight is necessary to ensure that these vouchers, and any additional vouchers, will be administered, distributed, and utilized to the fullest extent possible. By tracking the outcomes of the current HUD/VASH voucher program, a full annual evaluation of their effectiveness will, we believe, illustrate the effectiveness of the program, and the need for additional vouchers.
This concludes my testimony Mr. Chairman. I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have at this time
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA PRIVATE
October 1, 2009
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
Richard F. “Rick” Weidman is Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of America. As such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in Washington. He served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War, including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division, located in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.
Mr. Weidman was part of the staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving variously as Membership Service Director, Agency Liaison, and Director of Government Relations. He left VVA to serve in the Administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo as statewide director of veterans’ employment & training (State Veterans Programs Administrator) for the New York State Department of Labor.
He has served as Consultant on Legislative Affairs to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and served at various times on the VA Readjustment Advisory Committee, the Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities - Subcommittee on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Entrepreneurship at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other advocacy posts. He currently serves as Chairman of the Task Force for Veterans’ Entrepreneurship, which has become the principal collective voice for veteran and disabled veteran small-business owners.
Mr. Weidman was an instructor and administrator at Johnson State College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he was also active in community and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate University (B.A., 1967), and did graduate study at the University of Vermont.
He is married and has four children.
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 Birdsboro, Pennsylvania.