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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gerous to a civilian society if the possessors of these skills are driv-
en to its fringes. So it is the smart thing to do to provide benefits
to them. It is in our self-interest.

To my great pleasure, I have learned that this is not a partisan
issue; that Republicans and Democrats come together. Congress-
man Evans has recently broken new ground in an amendment to
the crime bill which will mandate awareness by the states of the
veteran status of its prisoners and mandate assistance to them in
obtaining the benefits to which they are entitled by law at very lit-
tle cost to the states, virtually zero.

And I am very gratified to learn that his amendment was strong-
ly supported by both sides of the aisle. This is not an ideological
question of liberal versus conservative. This is not a question of
one's posture toward the Vietnam War, whether it was a heroic
cause or a horrible mistake. There is profound unity that we must
do this for ourselves, for our own moral fiber because these men
have this absolute claim on us.


I see that the green light still on. My hope had been, with the
chairman's permission, to direct attention to my written testimony
and yield the balance of my time for the members to question all
three of us, both in the time I have remaining and in the time you
would ordinarily use for questions.

[The prepared statement of Dr. Shay appears on p. 110.]

Mr. Evans. First, Dr. Liebert, the issue of veterans being unable
to document their combat experiences due to the secret nature of
their missions was brought before this subcommittee during a site
visit in Evansville, IN, with Congressman Frank McCloskey.

Both of us, Frank McCloskey and myself, have subsequently met
with the Secretary of Veterans Afffairs, who is very sympathetic to
opening up the military records to at least VA personnel, and has
said that he would try to negotiate a memorandum of understand-
ing between the VA and the Department of Defense to open up
these records.

I do not know if that memorandum of understanding would be
all that is needed, but I think it is an important first step forward.
We met a combat veteran of Cambodia who had for seven years
tried to get his records to prove the stressors that were required
to receive PTSD related disability, and he finally got it, but it was
a seven-year battle, and that is what we are trying to do with this
memorandum of understanding, and we will want your input
through this process.

You have given us very good testimony.

Dr. Liebert. I would be happy to do that, sir.

Mr. Evans. We appreciate it.

I appreciate your kind remarks about the legislation, and I do
not know, doctor, if you were present when I addressed the group
yesterday at the seminar and if you had heard that the provision
actually through a technicality had not been included in the final
provisions of the crime bill, as well as two other provisions for some
reason just did not make it into the final print. So we need action
to get that included.

But because of the relatively noncontroversial nature of that
issue, I think we will have no problem in doing that, but we may
need to come back to the veterans here at the Joiner Center Sym-
posium to send the word out if that is a problem in the near future.
Basically it just did not get printed in the official bill itself that
was ratified by the Congress and supported by us, but we are going
to work that through the system.

Dr. Shay. If I may say, I feel like my trip, which is at my own
expense, not the government's expense, was entirely justified by
the fact that John Woods and I stumbled on the fact that it had
not been printed in the official version going to the conference com-
mittee, and as a result are able to get timely correction of this sten-
ographic error. So this has been a great trip for me for that one
reason; alone.

Mr. Evans. Well, we appreciate your help. I hope it is just a
stenographic error. I hope it is not something else.

I will have to call on the gentleman from Illinois to help me out
if it is anything more than that. Let me yield to him at this point.

Mr. Gutierrez. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


I am just curious, Dr. Liebert. You know when you talked about
a second injury and it is caused by, quote, forced silence and dis-
avowed combat history, we have a lot of Persian Gulf veterans who
were first told that their combat history did not include exposure
to chemical or environmental hazards even though the veterans felt
that they had been exposed.

In addition, they were discouraged fi'om seeking medical help
while they were on active duty because they said this did not hap-
pen to a lot of the Persian Gulf veterans.

Do you think this could lead to another form of second injury?
We know they were not in top secret operations, but they were not
given encouragement to speak freely about their experiences and
the problems, and many of them came to testify before this sub-
committee and other subcommittees saying that all of their prob-
lems were psychological problems and none of their problems were
physical problems.

So knowing that, do you think that this could just lead to psycho-
logical problems and the need for psychiatric interventions?

Dr. Liebert. First of all, a gentleman from the Department of
Veterans Affairs addressed us on Monday stating unequivocally
that there is a medical problem, physical illness with these people,
and it is not psychological. That is for starters.

That is at the very top of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
When you are out in the boonies, trjdng to do something, in places
like the Pacific Northwest with the Veterans Administration hos-
pitals, the injury comes not fi-om up here. It comes from the na-
ivety and preconceived notions of people that are the gatekeepers
within the hospitals, and absolutely, if these people are told, you
know, when they come into the admitting office that they are ei-
ther a crock, as occurred with the individuals I have presented, or
that they have a "psychiatric disturbance," "the waste paper basket
diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder," quotes, which was on
the news a few weeks ago. It is not a waste paper basket diagnosis,
and it does not explain what is wrong, I do not believe, with these

And, yes, indeed, if they did not have post-traumatic stress dis-
order before, they will get it as a result of the way these cases will
be handled, I suspect.

Mr. Gutierrez. I would like to thank Dr. Shay for being here,
again, this year, and to encourage him to continue to do the work
to help those veterans with bad paper, quote, unquote, so that they
can begin to get the kind of medical care that they need so that
they can recover, and I would like to thank him for being here
again this year and I thank the chairman for the time.

Mr. Evans. I thank the gentleman.

The Congresswoman from California is recognized for an opening
statement or any questions for the panel.


Ms. Waters. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I must commend you on the attention that you always devote to
the viewpoints of our veterans on veterans' affairs and related is-
sues, and I am delighted that you afford us all the opportunity to


have this platform where we can continue to bring attention to
these issues that are unresolved.

Very often I am approached by veterans who tell me how dissat-
isfied they are with the services they receive from the VA. They go
into great detail to share with me their experiences, ranging from
delays in service to lack of sensitivity to their needs. I am sure I
am not unique in this situation. I am sure that many of my col-
leagues on this committee experience these same complaints as
they encounter veterans.

Whether these are valid complaints or not, it is this perception
that many veterans across the nation have about the VA and the
services provided. I addressed a group of veterans yesterday on
pretty much this same issue, and my comments to them hold true
for you today.

I am extremely sympathetic to the concerns, and I know that
there are some real problems that need to be addressed at the VA,
and I want to work to address those issues. I would like to see the
VSOs and community-based organizations figure out how we can
design some solutions, some together maybe and some not together,
so that we can come up with a plan, rather, to reform the VA.

I think this is the only way that we can begin to address in a
comprehensive way the problems that exist at the VA.

Mr. Chairman, again, I comment you for your leadership on this
committee and your willingness to tackle these tough issues, and
I know that today we are presented with valuable information not
only on services, but many other issues that veterans have.

I am hopeful that given your willingness to convene veterans and
to provide this platform for a discussion, that the veterans will
work closely with us in designing solutions and making suggestions
about how we can approach getting some of these problems solved.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Evans. Well, we appreciate your attendance and your tire-
less advocacy on the part of veterans of all eras. There has been
a great change in our committee since you came on board, and we
have always appreciated that.

Do you have any questions?

Ms. Waters. No, I do not.

Mr. Evans. We would like to thank you all very much for your
testimony today, and we will now call forward the members of the
next panel who are Mike Neely, Maceo May, Richard Fitzpatrick,
and Michael Blecker.

Mike is Director of the Homeless Outreach Program in Los Ange-
les. Maceo is Housing Director of Swords to Plowshares, San Fran-
cisco, CA. Richard is Executive Director of the National Coalition
for Homeless Veterans here in DC, and Michael is Executive Direc-
tor of Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, CA.

We will start with Mike Neely as soon as he is seated if he is




Mr. Neely. Good morning, Mr. Chairman.

It is really an honor for me to be here. However, one of the
things that I find has happened is that the Honorable Ms. Waters,
again, has already delivered my testimony. So I guess I can leave.

The basis of my testimony is revolving around a reorganization
of Veterans Affairs. I believe that one of the things that we have
a problem with is the diversity or the limited abilities for Veterans
Affairs on a local level and Veterans Affairs on a national level to
ever coordinate the level of services for veterans.

I would like to see a system begin to be developed wherein the
local communities develop plans around the needs of the individual
communities and the veterans of that community.

I would like to see medical centers develop plans taking into ac-
count the veterans' service organizations, the community-based
providers, the unaffiliated veterans, the surveys of their facilities,
surveys of individuals on the streets, as well as public and local of-

Then from that point, the plans would be sent to VA central of-
fice, and a national strategy on veterans would be developed based
upon these individual local plans.

Once we have this national strategy, our next move should be to
directly link resource allocations with the implementation of these
particular plans.

I also believe that one of the other problems that we have is that
we have a Veterans Affairs Department that is trying to be too
many things and ultimately is not being very many things to very
many people. We are doing compensation benefits; we are doing so-
cial welfare; we are doing medical service, trying to do all of this
in one location.

I think that a much more effective and efficient system would be
to think in terms of transferring some of the compensation and
benefits programs either to Social Security Administration or De-
partment of Defense or to one of the other agencies that is cur-
rently doing benefits. Provide a single point of contact, not to
change level of benefits, not to change eligibility requirements, not
to change funding mechanisms, but to move benefits out of the Vet-
erans Affairs and allow Veterans Affairs to begin to concentrate on
the social welfare of the veteran clients.

The final thing that I would like to ask of this committee would
be for us to begin to consider that veterans today suffer from one
of the very serious problems, and that is a problem of housing. In
terms of housing, most of the veterans today are not going to be
able to buy a home. That is basically out of the reach of most
Americans today.

What I would like to see us begin to implement is a Section 8
veterans' housing program. That t3T)e of a program would allow in-


dividuals to be able to take that first step, allow individuals to be
able to save money and to be able to then take advantage of the
VA home loan programs, et cetera, et cetera.

Those kinds of things are the kinds of new ideas I would like to
see move into VA. Those are the kinds of things that I would like
to see us begin to work on, implementing together.

And on that note, thank you.

[The prepared statement of Mr. Neely appears on p. 119.]

Mr. Evans. Thank you, Mike.

We will go now to Maceo.


Mr. May. Good morning, members of the subcommittee.

I want to thank you again for inviting me here to testify on vet-
erans' issues. I wanted to talk today about Stand Down events for
homeless veterans. They have become very prolific around the
country, but before talking about Stand Downs, I just want to say
to you that we are seeing increasing numbers of veterans, even
with some breakthrough on resources, that are in desperate situa-

We also are seeing evidence that as veterans get older £ind enter
mid-life crisis, their problems and conditions are starting to have
a cumulative effect in terms of degredation of their living situa-
tions. More veterans that we are seeing are just barely hanging on.
Quite a few of them are trying to remain stable trying to keep their
housing, and jobs, but they are losing their grip and plunging into
canyons of despair, homelessness, and emotional havoc.

We also know that through these Stand Downs more veterans
are coming in or trying to come in for services. Now, as some of
you may know. Stand Down is a military term that describes bring-
ing a combat unit out of combat to an area of safety and security.

Bob Van Kuren, the former Executive Director of Vietnam Veter-
ans of San Diego, started Stand Down back in 1986 or 1987 as a
chicken feed, but through that chicken feed, they began to under-
stand that veterans had a multitude of problems that were not
being addressed. They decided to create a three-day event to try to
address some of those problems.

As a result, it was pretty successful, and as I said, there are now
35 sites, Stand Down sites, currently operating around the country
which have served over 10,000 veterans.

When we look at some of the purposes and benefits of these
Stand Downs, we find that they have provided good outreach and
good interventions. A lot of veterans live in urban areas, but they
are still isolated. They are isolated sometimes because they per-
ceive that they are going to have negative experiences in trjdng to
get help. Some of them are isolated because they are too impaired
to negotiate help. These veterans are isolated even fi-om other
homeless people on the street.

Stand Down events have been very nurturing and they have
been nm by veterans. These elements have allowed good outreach
to veterans who are isolated. Most Stand Downs have created a
group leader program, which are designed to create interventions
in the veteran's life. Some of those interventions have been lifesav-
ing. Others have repatriated veterans with their families, and they


have also encouraged veterans to come in and seek help after
Stand Down.

Also, I want to say that one of the other benefits has been dem-
onstrating the magnitude of the problem. As I said, over 10,000
veterans have been served. Some 70 percent of these veterans re-
port some kind of medical problem. Over 60 percent report drug or
other alcohol problems, and over 30 percent are reporting some
type of emotional problem, including post-traumatic stress.

What did we learn through these events? And what have been
some of the challenges that we have experienced?

One problem is that you do a great event; you have great inter-
ventions, but you do not have the resources to sustain all of the
motivation and hope that you have engendered throughout the
three days. It is a very sad spectacle, indeed, as you begin to close
down your event, you realize that you cannot even get people into
temporary housing in some communities that these events are
being held in.

We know that there is a dearth of resources to facilitate support-
ive and transitional housing. As Swords, we have a small transi-
tional program, and I will tell you we cringe as veterans attempted
to get in there, and we could not facilitate them because of a lack
of funding. This is ridiculous.

The solutions are out there. They are out there, I'll say again, to
engender all this hope, to motivate these veterans, and then to let
them down in the end is a very, very substantial tragedy.

The other piece of the challenge is that community-based agen-
cies have often been the lead agencies in putting these Stand
Downs together. We know that most community-based agencies op-
erate on a shoestring, and I do want to say that there is great ac-
knowledgement and gratitude to the Department of Veterans Af-
fairs, DOD, and some of the other agencies that helped out, but
these events are very resource-intensive. They are very resource-in-
tensive. We struggle to try to get resources such as cots, tents,
blankets, and power generation to put these events together.

DOD and the National Guard, in particular, have all of these
materials, but I will tell you it takes more than an act of Congress
to get the National Guard to act. You know, I just think and be-
lieve that between the Department of Veterans Affairs, DOD and
the various state National Guards, there should be a very simple
way to come up with and coordinate a package, a Stand Down
package that would include X number of tents, X number of cots,
et cetera, to logistically help Stand Down events.

We could coordinate the Stand Down events throughout the
state, throughout the nation so that this package or several pack-
ages could travel and make the job a lot easier for organizations
doing Stand Downs, at least hopefully until we do not need any-
more Stand Downs.

I know my time is getting short. So I just want to close. I am
reminded of a statement by an individual that has always struck
me, and that statement was: people are often willing to accept a
complex error rather than the simple truth. When it comes to vet-
erans' issues, it seems many are willing to accept a complex neglect
rather than reasoned solutions.


So I am just encouraging all of us to really look at some of the
very simple ways that we can use veterans. That does not take a
very complex, "well, gee, you know, 0MB cannot get regulations
out," and so forth. It does not take all of that. I think the solutions
are rather simple.

Thank you.

[The prepared statement of Mr. May appears on p. 125.]

Mr. Evans. Richard.


Mr. FITZPATRICK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning.

We appreciate very much your working once again with the Join-
er Center in bringing this diverse and committed group of veterans
from around the country. It is good for you to hear the testimony,
and it is always good for us to have an opportunity to spend time
with each other and to learn of the emphasis and the concerns of
each of these different organizations.

The last time we all had an opportunity to meet, many people
in this room were here in the District in February for the first
homeless veterans summit convened by the Secretary of Veterans
Affairs, a very exciting event, and we are very pleased that you,
Mr. Chairman, and Ms. Waters and other Members of Congress
took the time to come over and see over 700 advocates of homeless
veterans, to be able to articulate their concerns in conjunction, in
coordination, in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Af-

It was a tremendous opportunity for us, and we felt a real kin-
ship. We felt for the first time that the Department of Veterans Af-
fairs was opening its doors and that the concept of collaboration,
of working in a partnership with community-based organizations
was what they were all about.

Unfortunately, today we are a little more discouraged. A lot of
that euphoria is over. Understand we recognize full well that in
two and a half months that the great ship of state does not change
all that much, but unfortunately, the changes we have seen have
not been for the better, and we see some slippage, some moving

Certainly first and foremost among this is in the world of govern-
ment. I recognize it is an extremely insignificant amount of money,
$5 million, but to you, Mr. Chairman, and to those in this Congress
that led the effort to get the homeless veteran grant and per diem
program passed two years ago, and then finally to get it funded
last year, this meant so very much to us, even though your original
authorized level of 40-plus million dollars would just be a begin-
ning to solve the problem. The $5 million was something. It was
precedent-setting, and it would really affect lives.

The final appropriation, when it had to go through the second
time last year, of course, was in the end of September. Actually the
VA was aware that it was in all likelihood going to be funded ear-
lier than that. They began working on the rules.

In December, a number of us were given drafts of the rules, and
we were convened, and we spent a good deal of time with the VA
going over the specifics of how this should be implemented. We
were told that that would happen in late January.


In January, we were told that these comments were taking a ht-
tle bit longer, and it would happen in February.

In February, at the homeless summit, we were told that it would
happen in March.

In March, we were told it would happen in April, and then at the
end of April, we were told those rules finally went over to the other
departments that had to have a look at them, and it might take
now, from Mr. Panetta's office, it could take another 90 days.

Now, understand this is only the preliminary rules. First they
have to be published. Then there is a 60-day comment period. Then
there is an unspecified period of time for the VA to respond to the
comments. Then they have to be published again. Then nonprofits
send their applications in. Then those are reviewed.

The likelihood now, if this plan were to continue, of any money
getting out by the end of this fiscal year is very unlikely, which
means that we could face another winter without this money in the
hands of the community-based organizations, which means that
homeless veterans will suffer needlessly.

We recognize that there is a need for careful regulation, but last
winter, as you recall, only a few blocks from this building, when
a homeless woman died outside the offices of HUD, that the re-
sponse of the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary of HUD was
tremendous. They moved mountains.

They got a $25 million initiative for the homeless through regula-
tions, a brand new, newly conceived program from scratch. Within
a matter of weeks it was published, and they had the same prob-
lems. They had environmental concerns that had to be taken care
of. They had historic building concerns. A lot of things had to be

But there was leadership from the top, and we give great credit
to Secretary Cisnaros and to Andrew Cuomo, who got things done
and in record time, got $25 million out in the hands of people to
help homeless folks while it was still cold outside.

We are looking for that same kind of resolve in the Department
of Veterans Affairs and across the government, to get this money
in the hands of veterans who need it now.

We had planned to come to you today telling how we needed to
put help, pressure, and assistance to our friends on the appropria-

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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 3 of 23)