On a given night in 2015, nearly 50,000 veterans experienced homelessness across the country, a staggering number, yet a number that represents a 36 percent decline since 2010. We’re making progress. But now administrative changes brewing at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could threaten that progress.
The changes have to do with several VA transitional housing and rapid rehousing programs that have been largely responsible for the progress we have made in recent years. In short, these changes would make certain veterans ineligible for these programs. Senior leaders at VA estimate such changes would affect approximately 15 percent of the current population served by these programs.
No doubt about it, when it comes to the eligibility policy for these programs, clarity is needed. A June 2015 VA Inspector General report highlighted the inconsistency between the policy for these programs, which allows veterans with other than dishonorable discharges to participate, and the eligibility policy for health care services, which restricts access for this particularly vulnerable group of veterans.
Further, the report noted that guidance by VA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) to program officials has led to inequitable application of program eligibility criteria nationwide. So VA has agreed to establish a definitive legal position on program eligibility by November 2015. As of this writing, however, it still has yet to announce such a position.
Now, if the OGC chooses to address this lack of clarity with administrative policy changes that make these groups of veterans ineligible, it would dramatically impede the national initiative to end veteran homelessness and prolong the homelessness of thousands of veterans and their families while depriving them of desperately needed housing assistance.
Fortunately, there’s legislation in the works that would prevent a disastrous outcome like this. Senator Patty Murray, of Washington, introduced S. 1731, which would clarify that homeless or at-risk veterans with “other than honorable” discharge statuses and those who don’t meet the minimum time in active duty service requirement would remain eligible for housing assistance funded by VA Programs.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously on October 29. Now, the House of Representatives needs to pass this bill and send the message loud and clear to VA that Congress will not allow them to turn this group of homeless veterans away from housing assistance.
You can be a part of the solution by urging the House of Representatives to act quickly to pass this bill. Call your member of Congress by dialing the Congressional switchboard at 877-210-5351 and follow up in the weeks to come! We’ve made that easy for you with these talking points.
It’s crucial that members of the House understand that a failure to support this bill would make them complicit in any VA decision to limit access to housing assistance for homeless and at-risk veterans.