United States. Congress. House. Committee on Veter.

Viewpoints on Veterans Affairs and related issues : hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, May 4, 1994 online

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emerged to attend the event and receive services. Such innovative outreach methods are typical amone
community-based organizations.

At a recent national training conference on StandDowns, sponsored by NCHV a representative of
Palmetto State Base Camp, Inc. (PSBCI) in Columbia, S.C. , showed slides of tents formerly inhabited by
bushmen' in local woods; the efforts of Palmetto State were successful in drawing the men out of their
isolation and into a home. The success of the group demonstrates that the model of veteran-helping-veteran
works. The group sponsored the StandDown in Columbia which served over 400 homeless veterans- the VA
Regional Office estimates that there are as many as 500 homeless veterans in the Midlands The goal' of PSBCI
IS to provide transitional housing for homeless veterans along with a program designed to make them self-
sufficient but they are in need of funding. The group was founded by two VietNam veterans and two from
Desert Storm. The president of the board is a VietNam veteran who struggled for years with substance abuse
and mental health problems; at the age of 51, he has overcome his difficulties thanks to the intervention of
concerned veterans and is currently enrolled in college where he maintains a 3.5 and his work with PSBCI is
credited as work-study.

As IS the case with many vet-helping-vet CBOs, the lines between service providers and the homeless
veterans being served are not so clearly drawn. A number of service providers are one step away from
homelessness themselves and many programs we have been in contact with are in danger of closing due to a
lack of government funding. Several prospective transitional housing programs, such as one in West Virginia
that would have been called "Freedom House" have failed due to a lack of support and funding.

Nevertheless, there is a ground swelling of positive, effective and efficient programs that are
spontaneously coming into existence throughout the country. And this is happening with little assistance or
nurturing from the federal agencies. Just think what could happen if the full resources of the federal
government were marshaled to not replace but assist these community-based programs.

It is our contention that not only is the government failing to solve these problems but it is not the
appropriate means by which the needs of the vast majority of our country's homeless veterans should be met.

It IS through our 160 or so community based, veteran-helping-veteran programs - and nearly 100 more
in the planning stages - that America can resolve this problem. We are now stepping forward to take care of
our own. Overseas, we tried to never leave our wounded on the battlefield. We can do no less at home We
are tiot a permanent special-interest group. We are working to put ourselves out of business by gettins this
job done. "

However, this does not let Congress off the hook. There are a great many things you can do A number
of these concepts were defined and recommended by the Speaker's Task Force on Homelessness in their recent
report to the House.

We've broken down our proposals by Department.

The Department of Defense

The Landing Party

When defense installations are closed and turned over to local communities, the first program on each
base should be a contingent of homeless veterans assigned the task of maintaining, securing and cleaning up
the facilities. After all, who knows better how to run the infrastructure of these facilities than the soldiers and
sailors who served there in the past? The environmental and ballistic clean-up operations are ideal programs


which not only provide tasks the government is going to have to do anyway, but also are excellent training
programs that would result in high-paying job skills.

We appreciate DoD's concern for getting the local communities involved in the decision making
process of how these installations should be used. Our concern is that there be a requirement that local veteran
groups be involved in that process. No one has a more legitimate claim to participate in the decisions related to
the ultimate utilization of military bases that those who served on them.

We strongly back a concept defined by Swords to Plowshares, a veterans advocacy group in San
Francisco, that proposes the establishment of Homeless Veteran Academies on closed military Installations. We
support the efforts of Dr. Robert Alexander and Role Models America, Inc. for the development of excess
military properties in Florida for a National Youth Corps Academy utilizing homeless veterans as support staff
and mentors for the nation's troubled and drop-out youths.

Barges & Tenders

Homeless veterans in coastal communities could be served by the use of surplus U.S. Navy Barracks
Barges and Tenders. The barges can sleep hundreds of Individuals and the tenders are floating workshops. The
ability of community-based organizations to obtain such ships and utilize them could result in a quick, effective
and appropriate full-service, floating program that could stay in one location until a permanent program was
established and then move to another community. The D.O.D. should be required to negotiate with interested
non-profit homeless veteran programs for the transfer and transportation of unneeded barracks barges and
tenders for use in providing services to homeless and jobless veterans.

Veteran Priorities

When the decisions are made related to the disposal of Defense Department properties (such as
furniture, sleeping bags, clothing, machinery, etc.) certain groups have a high priority established. We believe
that community-based homeless veteran providers deserve the same priority as ROTC, Boy Scout and Red Cross
units. We ask that we be established as such a priority group and not have to buy at market prices from state
agencies those items that were purchased by the military for use by these same people who are now homeless.

The Department of Health and Human Services

Getting the Lead Out

Lead abatement and asbestos detection and removal are key public health issues throughout much of
the country. There Is a significant lack of properly trained individuals and firms with skills in the management
and abatement of these dangerous problems Funds should be made available for CBOs to train homeless
veterans in the skills of site testing, abatement methods, and waste disposal procedures. These opportunities
should lead not only to potential employment but to create entrepreneurial opportunities for these vets to begin
businesses of their own and employ other vets in helping to erase these health hazards.

Securing Social Security Benefits

A substantial number of homeless veterans can be qualified for social security disability programs.
Unfortunately, the extensive amount of documentation paperwork necessary to qualify is difficult for individuals
who have no address or phone numbers to acquire. Further, few local homeless providers are knowledgeable
about the benefits that are available to the veterans in their programs. We propose that a national effort be
undertaken by Social Security, through a contract with a non-profit program, to educate local service providers
on how to reach homeless veterans and provide them with the benefits for which they are eligible.


The Department of Housing and Urban Affairs

Getting the share veterans have earned

The current leadership at HUD should be applauded for its grasp of the homeless problem and its
innovative steps to resolve it. Their budget proposal for next year is realistic and will have a positive impact on
the problem.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little recognition of the need for veteran specific programs . For
example, earlier this month funds were awarded for "Innovative Homeless Programs" with less than 2% going
specifically to serve the 30% to 35% of the homeless who are veterans. And this is not due to a lack of effort on
the part of local veteran programs; a substantial number of community-based veteran programs made proposals.
It may now be necessary to require that an appropriate percentage of HUD homeless funding be set-aside for
programs that specifically serve veterans and their families.

In this year's budget process, the Administration is proposing to "block-grant" homeless funding at the
community level, rather than making the determinations in Washington. If this takes place, it is vital that the
mandated local planning process be required to include local veteran service providers.

Not all veterans are in veteran programs

There is such an irony in the current situation: tens of thousands of veterans are jobless and homeless
and hungry and in desperate need of help while our government has established a remedy - and it is vastly

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers benefits to veterans which can provide up to $20,760 per year
tax-free, in addition to all medical, psychological, and dental care as well as vocational, educational and
rehabilitative services. These benefits are considerably more generous than those offered through either state or
local social service agencies.

Many states and some cities also have funds available exclusively for needy veterans and their families.
Additionally, there is a massive network of thousands of Veteran Service Organizations (American Legion,
AMVETS, VFW, DAV, VVA, etc.) who have funding opportunities for veterans in need.

Why are these generous resources overlooked? After substantial research, we have found that case
managers and shelter operators in non-veteran programs simply are not aware that they exist. When the
veteran-specific benefits are ignored, the community loses out because:

• Homeless-designated funding serves fewer clients as veterans consume homeless resources
rather than veteran benefits

• Veterans languish on the streets and in shelters because they are not given the intensive services
designed for their specific needs

• The community loses out on productive members of the economy and polity

• Social services receive fewer net dollars since VA benefits are an entitlement, whereas other
homeless service dollars (both national and local) are usually granted on a competitive basis

We have proposed to HUD a pilot project that can help to alleviate these problems by teaching
homeless service providers in Washington, DC to identify a homeless veteran and to connect him or her with
the appropriate services. After that program is implemented and evaluated, five other cities would be sites for
regional training and would receive the same benefit - building knowledge. Simultaneously they would build
cooperative bridges of understanding among providers through their shared experience in training. An added
benefit of the training session geared specifically toward the needs of the homeless veteran is that it would
coalesce a group of advocates interested in the homeless veteran which can live on as a sustaining force within
the community long after the training is finished. "Train the trainer" sessions would develop a national network
of advocates who are knowledgeable and eager to spread their knowledge. Many communities can benefit, as
will many homeless veterans. We request the immediate funding of this valuable project.


Stand Up for StandDown

In 1993, an estimated 10,000 homeless veterans found rest and safety, a variety of services and a
helping hand, at more than 35 Innovative programs called "StandDowns".

Almost as important is the incredible increase in a community's awareness of the plight of the one-third
of the homeless who are veterans which takes place with a StandDown. When 500 homeless vets show up at
one time in Minneapolis, MN or in St. Petersburg, FL, the public begins to recognize that there is a real problem
of homelessness among veterans StandDowns are not the solution to homelessness but they are an opportunity
to create an atmosphere conducive to change and recovery. It is not a hand-out but a hand-up, extended by a
grateful, caring community.

In order to enhance the efforts of StandDowns to fill this void and reach the thousands of displaced
veterans across the country in order to bring them into the existing continuum of care at the appropriate point,
we propose the creation of a StandDown '94 assistance and enhancement effort and request funding to
implement it.

By assisting no- and low-income veterans to attend one of these events and acquire the untapped
resources to which they are entitled, and by offering them access to the supportive and rehabilitative services
they need, we will be increasing their long-term economic independence.

These programs can enable thousands of veterans (rural, suburban and urban) to get into a system that
provides housing, counseling for drug and/or alcohol addiction, federal and state veteran and SSI benefits, and
access to job training and placement opportunities. It goes beyond the symptoms and gets to the causes of their

This veteran-helping-veteran program combines our unique expertise in veteran issues and benefits and
our ability to establish trust and rapport with veterans with the proven StandDown technique to access the
supportive services they need to move on to economically viable lives, contributing to the economic vitality of
our country.

We gratefully acknowledge the on-going support of local StandDowns by the Department of Veterans
Affairs and Department of Labor's HVRP program. We request specific funding from HUD for the technical
assistance and support of the development of these innovative and successful programs.

1-800-VET HELP

We propose the establishment of a national referral clearinghouse and crisis line that would enable
homeless and at-risk veterans anywhere in the U.S.A. to have an immediate (over the phone) needs assessment.
Following this assessment, these veterans would then receive the appropriate services and transitional housing
(when needed), with the goal of moving on to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

The basic program concept is simple. 1-800-VET-HELP would assist homeless veterans and their
families in defining their problems and linking up with housing and supportive services in their community or
anywhere elsewhere through an on-line, national computerized database.

The basic promotional message could be simple: if you are a veteran and are homeless or in danger of
becoming homeless, call this number The secondary message is: if you know of a veteran who needs help,
share this number with them.

1-800-VET-HELP would fill a serious national service and information void. It would enable highly
trained veterans to help other veterans locate shelter, find services and cope with crisis situations in a rapid and
accurate manner.

As a result of a massive, national outreach effort, thousands of homeless veterans and their families will
be brought into the existing continuum of care at the appropriate point. This will:

' increase the ability of the provider community to reach out to vulnerable veterans who have

so far been ignored by the system;

* help prevent homelessness among veterans by facilitating intervention which will allow them
to stay in their existing residence;

* increase the total level of resources dedicated to the service of the homeless by replacing
resources used to serve homeless veterans with veteran specific benefits; and

' establish a national, central point of emergency information and referral.


24 Hour Coverage Highly trained veteran professionals would staff 1-800-VET-HELP 24 hours a day,
365 days a year to provide homeless veterans with immediate assistance accessible at no charge, from any
telephone in the U.S.A.

Since no one understands a veteran as well as another vet, phone lines would be staffed by fellow
veterans - primarily those who have previously been homeless - permitting a non-threatening, comfortable
atmosphere for vulnerable homeless veterans to access.

National Services Database 1-800-VET-HELP can create a comprehensive, computerized directory of
services to assist veterans in locating local housing and supportive services. This on-line database would be
updated continuously and provide the only national picture of available housing and service resources to serve
homeless veterans, their families and those in danger of becoming homeless.

While such a database would be created with veterans in mind, it would, by necessity, detail the entire
homeless continuum of care. This would be the only such national source of information on the total system
in place, both public and private, for homeless prevention, outreach, assessment, shelter, services, transitional
services and housing. The benefits to the system as a whole to have such data available are substantial.

We strongly urge the funding of this project by HUD.

Capacity Development Project

Most homeless veteran groups are born as a result of the charitable instincts of civic-minded individuals,
sometimes without the underlying infrastructure of a sound organization. These initiatives often respond to a
heartfelt need to provide services, without regard to the institutional ability to meet the need. The results of our
survey demonstrate that people want to do something, they just don't know how to do it. Without a sound
organizational foundation, initiatives can fail. But they don't need to. With the help of our attention to their
structural needs, these efforts can be accomplished without requiring each local program to "re-invent the
wheel," wasting precious financial resources on basic development needs.

We propose to train current homeless veteran providers as well as potential homeless veteran providers
on the basics of organizational structure and development, strategic and business planning, and other
professional management techniques. We would create a basic organizational development manual and
model materials and regional training programs.

The purpose of this effort would be to improve the quality, quantity and variety of services provided for
homeless veterans by developing the capacity of service providers to better plan, develop and manager their
operations. We believe that an organizational development handbook and training will achieve that purpose
and fill in the gaps in the continuum of care for homeless veterans. We request funding from HUD for this

The Department of the Interior

Lost in the Wilderness

The ability to locate individuals in need of help in the county's national parks is of an ever-increasing
demand. Veterans of military trainmg and action have those very skills. A specific program should be initiated
for homeless veterans to be trained and utilized for search and rescue missions in our national parks.

The Department of Labor

Jobs for Vets

The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project (HVRP) of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service
is providing a substantial amount of service with a minimal budget. HVRP provides the key element missing
from most homeless programming: job placement.


HVRP should be utilized as the central coordinating point of all job training programs for homeless
veterans. Its funding should be at least doubled from its current level of $5.5 million and it should provide
inter-agency coordination and direction of all work creation programs. Furthermore, its funding should be a
specific line-item going directly to VETS rather than lumped in with other Education and Training
Administration funds.

The Department of Transportation

Flag Waving

We propose a number of pilot projects where homeless veterans are guaranteed jobs as flag persons on
highway construction sites. For a period of at least six months they should be employed, housed and given a
small living stipend while the rest of their earnings are saved for use for housing deposits and other living costs
when their participation in the program is over. This should be done in conjunction with local, community-
based groups who would provide the full continuum of care the vets might need.

The Department of Veterans Affairs

Homeless vets; vetless homes

It is ironic that at the same time so many veterans are homeless, the VA owns tens of thousands of
empty, repossessed homes.

We propose that the VA establish a task-force charged with developing a workable plan within 100 days
to utilize guaranteed home loan distressed property inventory and make these homes available to community-
based organizations and local units of government to renovate and use for providing services to homeless

Members of our organization are working with the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to assist them in
providing affordable housing to veterans. It seems logical that the same services could be utilized for VA
properties. Furthermore, since the VA has the ability to finance the sale of property to individual vets, it should
also be able to finance the sale of properties to not-for-profit corporations which are of, by and for vets.

Plan for Discharge Planning

Many of those who provide services on a daily basis to homeless veterans believe that the existing poor
discharge planning practices and procedures of the Veterans Administration are a significant contributing factor
for up to 1 57o of the homelessness of former VA patients.

The results of the new CAO study which looks into the VA's discharge planning should be studied and
the input of local service providers sought out. Necessary procedural changes should be implemented as soon
as possible.

Contracting with the VA

The Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Service Programs Act of 1992 (Public Law 102-590 1 1/10/92)
established a program for the Department of Veterans Affairs to make grants to non-profit and public entities for
a specific set of homeless veterans services. This past year the VA, HUD and Independent Agencies
Appropriations ( H.R. 2491) conference report included $8 million for this purpose.

This is the sin gle most important legislation ever passed to help homeless veterans. Important not in
size but in concept and precedent. The VA has failed miserably in its effort to implement sections 3 and 4 of
this act - the parts that provide funding for local programs. They have set aside $5.2 million for the 160 +
community based programs (an average of $32,500 annually each) - while keeping $2.8 million for VA 's own
multi-service centers.

Even this minuscule amount of money could be leveraged by our local programs and much good will
come of it. However, there are three things to keep in mind:


1 ) If the funding process isn't complete this year, the winter will come with no new hope for this
country's veterans - the money will lapse to the general fund and the will of a large majority of Congress will
be thwarted.

2) The enabling legislation contains some detailed and restrictive language that will temper the
potential benefit. Specifically, the amount and nature of the local match requirements limit the ability of small
and newly formed groups from applying. The nature of any local match should be redefined to allow the sum
of the continuum of care services to be used as "match."

The statutory requirement that local facilities meet VA building code inflates the cost of building
renovation with no justification. Of course our programs should be required to comply fully with all local and
state safety and building codes, but why should they have to meet a higher requirement?

3) This year's (1995) budget should reflect the depth of the problem and the success of local groups in
solving it. A ten-fold increase - to $52 million - would not be unrealistic and would make massive
improvements in the delivery of services - and yet still be only 1 X of the VA's annual budget.

Furthermore, it is essential for the local, community-based groups to have a chance to be aware of the
available funding and have a timely response capability so that they can create viable plans and grant
applications. Therefore, the VA should utilize a small percentage of the total to contract for technical assistance
from a not-for-profit organization with substantial experience in the area of providing services to exclusively to
homeless veterans. This would allow self-reliance-based veterans groups to demonstrate their capacity to meet
the legislation's intent and criteria. The successful models of homeless veteran service providers already in
existence would be used to give a helping hand to the emerging community based groups.

Bonus Drugs for Fun & Profit

Approximately 40% of homeless veterans have current prescriptions for pharmaceutical drugs, nearly

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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. House. Committee on VeterViewpoints on Veterans Affairs and related issues : hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, May 4, 1994 → online text (page 17 of 23)