A Note from Dr. Susan Angell, the Executive Director for Veterans Homeless Initiatives at the Department of Veterans Affairs

A Note from Dr. Susan Angell, the Executive Director for Veterans Homeless Initiatives at the Department of Veterans Affairs

Americans of all backgrounds are reminded daily of the sacrifices Veterans have made to protect the freedoms we cherish and often take for granted.  We are all proud when announcements are made about service members in faraway places who successfully complete dangerous missions. Our collective humanity causes us to pause when we hear about service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom. We cheer for Veterans who compete in spirited athletic events while they are recovering from devastating combat injuries. Unfortunately, after their military service is over, some Veterans face a variety of challenges and become homeless. Sadly, when that happens, most people don’t have the same level of interest or concern for the Veteran. As a Nation, we can do better.

President Obama and Secretary Shinseki share a commitment to prevent and end homelessness, especially among those who have served in the U.S. military and risked their lives to protect our Nation.  Secretary Shinseki solidified this commitment by announcing that the Department of Veterans Affairs would implement a plan to end homelessness among Veterans in five years, a goal also found in Opening Doors.  Some view this goal as unachievable, but it can be accomplished by marshalling all available resources at the federal, state and local levels, collaborating with community partners, and ensuring we provide the resources Veterans need in a coordinated way. 

By the time a Veteran has become homeless, there have been many missed opportunities for intervention. So the VA is taking decisive steps to attack the downward spiral that can lead to homelessness by offering a full range of care and benefits such as health care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, job training, and education that can prevent homelessness for Veterans.  We must be agile, proactive, and responsive to the needs of Veterans.  

Since 2009, we have made significant progress. VA's major homeless programs constitute the largest integrated network of homeless assistance programs serving Veterans in the country, offering a wide array of services to help Veterans recover from homelessness and live as self-sufficiently and independently as possible.  Each year, VA provides health care to over 130,000 homeless Veterans and other services to over 112,000 Veterans through its specialized homeless programs. These programs already show quantifiable results.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development - VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) is a joint effort between the HUD and VA.  HUD provides housing assistance through its Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) that allows Veterans to rent privately-owned housing.  VA provides these Veterans comprehensive case management, clinical and supportive services.  From 2008 through 2011, VA and HUD, through this partnership, have cumulatively housed over 32,500 Veterans and their families.

The new Homeless Veteran Supported Employment Program (HVSEP) provides vocational assistance, job development and placement, and ongoing support to improve employment outcomes among homeless Veterans and Veterans at-risk of homelessness.  In 2011, VA medical centers hired 366 new Homeless Vocational Rehabilitation Specialists (VRS) to provide these services.   Forty one more will be hired.  When fully staffed, all 407 positions will be filled by Veterans who were formerly homeless or at-risk of homelessness.  Veterans hired for these positions will help other Veterans by providing vocational and employment services.  It is expected that HVSEP will serve approximately 40,000 Veterans annually. 

The Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF) is a new prevention effort that awards grants to community partners to enable them to provide prevention services to very low-income Veterans and their families to keep them in or rapidly return them to permanent housing.  In 2011, VA awarded SSVF grants to 85 community agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia.  SSVF will help approximately 22,000 Veterans/Veterans Families experiencing or at risk of homelessness in its first year.

The economic and employment situation in America and the projected budget constraints at the Department of Defense during the next several years could make it even more challenging to end homelessness by 2015. However, we are committed  to assisting every Veteran who needs help. We recently launched a nationwide outreach initiative to inform the general public about the resources that are available to assist Veterans who need help. To assist VA in increasing the awareness of services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness, we encourage all Americans to make the call to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans whenever they encounter a Veteran who needs our help. Please make the call to (877) 4AID-VET or (877) 424-3838 and share the phone number with others. 

Secretary Shinseki outlined our Nation’s goal to serve Veterans with the following statement, “Those who have served this nation as Veterans should never find themselves on the street, living without care and without hope.”