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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tions committee, saying that $5 million was not enough. Now we
are saying we will take the $5 million, whatever it takes to get this
program implemented now. But we need that tough kind of leader-

The letter that a number of you signed yesterday will do a great
deal in that direction. Yet our sense is that the people at the Veter-
ans Administration have already heard us. We understand there
was a meeting convened yesterday afternoon, and we are very
pleased that they are being shaken up enough to try to do some-
thing about it.

But whatever you and the members of the committee can do to
move this forward and to move some of these other areas forward
will be of help. There are good and decent people at the VA, but
there is a bureaucracy and that bull shit needs to be cut through.


We need your help on this. We appreciate all that this committee
has done, and the answer is a partnership between the VA and
community-based organizations.

We have 164 programs that are ready to go to work and leverage
your resources, take them out into the field, and help resolve this

[The prepared statement of Mr. Fitzpatrick appears on p. 129.]

Mr. Evans. Before I call on Mike Blecker, the chair notes a state-
ment from Spencer Bachus, the gentleman from Alabama, will be
made part of the record of today's hearing, without objection.

The chair is pleased to now recognize Michael Blecker.


Mr. Blecker. Thank you. Congressman.

I want to thank Paul Camacho who, you know, his incredible
compassion and conviction and commitment is pretty extraor-
dinary, tr3dng to keep the Joiner Conference going, keeping the
network going that he has really created, and so I want to thank
him for this opportunity as well as you. Congressman, for getting
the opportunity to speak again.

My name is Michael Blecker. I am the Director of Swords, and
I am here to talk about the role of community-based organizations.

I have been working at Swords for 18 years, and I think I have
learned a couple of things, and I have really learned how cost-effec-
tive community-based organizations can be, and particularly when
it comes to veterans' issues and really what is happening right

I think we have some really important opportunities here. I real-
ly believe that health care reform and the federal budget are really
forcing the VA and other institutions to change the way they go
about doing business, and GAO did a study that employer man-
dated health care could reduce demand on VA inpatient services at
least 20 percent, and if there is universal health care, it will reduce
it at least 50 percent.

So things have to change. They just have to. There is too much
pressure, and we have really never been invited to the table. CBOs
have never really addressed the big enchilada. You know, we have
had the crumbs, a little bit of cheese on the table. You know,
maybe one tenth of one percent we deal with or two tenths of one

I think when you talk about direct services to a needy popu-
lation, and it was not always homeless veterans. We started, and
we could not dream we would become a homeless program. That
was unheard of. When Swords started in 1974, we were trying to
get vets into school using the GI Bill, get the job training pro-
grams, and now we are primarily a homeless program. Outrageous,
a homeless program.

And so what that has meant is I really think some of the tradi-
tional organizations really do not do this work. They do not know.
They are not the ones to ask for advice in how we deliver cost-effec-
tive services to a needy population. That is not part of what they

They would say, "Well, let's give the institutions another one
tenth of one percent, and that will solve the problem." Well, that


is not going to solve the problem. Unless we really work with these
community-based organizations, those are the ones that can do the

Now, I want to say that community-based organizations, not just
veteran specific, but nonprofit housing development corporations,
develop more affordable housing than anyone in this country. In
the last few years, nonprofits have developed more affordable hous-
ing units than for-profits, than privates, you name it. That is

There are these networks of mental health providers, legal serv-
ice providers. They are out there. They are sort of the invisible arm
of government, and yet, you know, we have to function on the "lit-
tlest," and we have to do the most.

I think nonprofits attract extraordinary people, and I have a per-
fect example, Maceo May to my right here. You know, we are just
fortunate to have someone of that capability, veterans helping vet-
erans who are committed, who work, who have compassion, who
share the cultural senses, who look like who they are serving, and
I think that is very important.

I believe that CBOs can create a range of services, and I want
to talk about something very important, and that is these base

I think right now we have an opportunity to do something. When
you are serving homeless vets, you have to have residential care.
I mean you can have the best drop-in services in the world, but if
somebody leaves your office and you have not provided housing for
them, you are only going to see them again when they are in crisis.

And these military bases finally offer us an opportunity to get
out of the inner city a little bit, just a little bit. I mean you have
to be in the inner city because that is where the vets are, but you
do not have to have housing in the inner city. You just do not have
to do it, and it is hard to have meaningful recovery when you are
in, you know, the poor inner cities where there is violence, there
is drugs. The issues are right there.

The housing is that opportunity to do that, and I think that
CBOs, because of the way it is structured, these base closures, it
is really important to work in partnership. For instance, federal
agencies are going to get first crack at these programs, at these
buildings, at this property. If we can work a partnership with the
federal agencies like the VA, and that is what we are doing locally
in San Francisco because we have a number of base closures there,
we will be able to do what we do best, and the VA can help us ac-
quire the property.

That is, I think, the least we learned from Stand Downs. If we
both do what we each do best, we can really serve veterans in the
best way.

I want to say that I liken CBOs to sort of like the "grunts" in
Vietnam. You know, there were "grunts," people in the field, and
there were people in the rear — I'll be nicer — people in the rear who
supported what people in the field did, and that is how you sur-
vived. I will tell you you would change places in a heartbeat. I was
always looking for a way to get back in the rear, believe me.

But when we were on line, we depended on that kind of support,
and I want to say CBOs are sort of people on the line or in the


field, and believe me, the war looks a lot different when you are
in the field than when you are in the rear.

We are being overrun right now with just desperation, and I
think CBOs deserve all of the support they can, and the thing
about it is they can do it cost-effectively. So just put it on the table,
and I think if we put it on the table, we will see that CBOs can
really do the job.


[The prepared statement of Mr. Blecker appears on p. 143.]

Mr. Evans. Thank you. I appreciate the testimony from the en-
tire panel.

After hearing these concerns yesterday, Congresswoman Waters,
myself, Joe Kennedy, Congresswoman Brown of our committee, and
many others last night wrote to Jesse Brown and to Leon Panetta
of 0MB, expressing our strong concerns about the delay in the is-
suing of the regulations for the community-based homeless pro-
vider grant program.

We are going to try to keep the pressure up to try to get those
regulations behind us as quickly as possible.

Maceo you talked about how we need more than an act of Con-
gress. Actually we do not have an act of Congress as of yet in try-
ing to target some National Guard or active military resources for
Stand Downs and maybe other programs, but I think there may be
a potential for an amendment to the Armed Services authorization
yet this year.

We are marking up in subcommittee today, and we move into full
committee tomorrow, and I would like to meet with this entire
panel afterwards in my office or at least meet with staff to further
explore this. We will have to be specific as to what we are seeking,
but here we are in the era of downsizing and surplus property
probably going to be sold and some of it could be used directly for
your programs at very reduced cost, if no cost whatsoever.

I would like to explore that with you.

There is a general frustration, given the fact that we had a very
successful homeless summit, that perhaps the follow-up is not mov-
ing as quickly as possible, and let me just ask the entire panel
what their top one to two priorities would be as we start to address
this problem with Jesse Brown's help, besides the regulations, let's

Mr. Neely. My top priority would be the reorganization of Veter-
ans Affairs to be more responsive to the needs of all veterans, but
most specifically homeless veterans, and that comes on the local
level. All of our problems are a little bit different, but I do not be-
lieve that any of the problems can be solved if we are going to try
and solve them with this system that is currently in place.

I think that what we have heard from a lot of individuals, wheth-
er the problem is women, whether the problem is minorities, are
more systemic than the problems are of individuals not being able
to — I do not think the VA does not want to respond. I think they
cannot respond. I think they are paralyzed, given their system.

And until we begin a reorganization of that system, we are going
to come back over and over and over again dealing with the prob-
lems and the complaints because even if the Secretary tomorrow
were to issue an order or directive to all VA medical centers


throughout the country to do whatever, you could go back 18
months, 20 months from now, and that directive or that order
would not have been initiated at all of the VA medical centers.

Those are the kinds of things that are problematic, and those are
the things that need to be changed. So I am saying if we change
accountability from the top to the local level and hold the VA medi-
cal centers on the local level accountable, then the level of service,
I believe, will have to increase.

Mr. Blecker. Yes, I was struck, and I actually want to piggy-
back on what Michael said; I was struck at the summit that there
were no medical hospital directors who were at the summit. They
had a couple of reps from the Social Work Division, and see, what
happens is Social Work and Community Services is low, the bottom
of the totem pole. It is not fancy research. It is not big time studies
that are reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. They
are treated really like stepchildren in terms of how they are treat-
ed within their own hospital.

And one of the things that came out of the summit was because
they have so much power locally — I mean the VA hospital centers
operate almost autonomous to the central office, and there are VA
reports that show how slow they are to respond even to central of-
fice, you know, guidelines, and so one of the problems is to get the
local hospital medical directors who have all of these resources and
support, to get them on line to support homeless services.

Mr. Evans. Under some of the health care reform provisions
there would be more autonomy for local directors. Would you sup-
port that or oppose that?

Mr. Blecker. That frightens me given the experience I have had.
It really does.

Mr. Neely. Well, it does not insure quality of care across the
board for all veterans, and we are going to have some places that
may have excellent care and other cases that will have abominable

Mr. May. You know, as Mike said, both Mikes, I think the key
to any more power given to local hospital administrators is ac-
countability, and I think that accountability does not come from the
VA. I think it comes from the consumer. I think that is where it
needs to begin.

You asked about the summit and a couple of priorities. Jesse
Brown made a commitment to put together an advisory panel made
up of and reflective of those who attended the summit. Now, hav-
ing many summits at 171 hospitals is difficult. It is time consum-
ing to put that together and structure it, but I do not think that
it really takes three months to put together that advisory panel.

At least somebody can begin the work if they are serious.

Mr. Evans. All right. A good point.


Mr. FiTZPATRiCK. I think on the issue of continuing the concept
of the summit, that those mini summits would be incredibly valu-
able. How wonderful it was for the 700 of us to be together not sim-
ply for what took place in the meetings and the information we
gained, but for the chance to talk to each other. If each medical
center were to be challenged to implement a local provider summit
so they would meet the people who provide food stamps, SSI, and


the homeless shelters in towns, so that each medical center would
simply have to have a half-day session in their area, they could
meet the providers and the providers would know what the VA
does. It is pretty simple. You in Congress called for it two years
ago, and the VA still has not implemented it.

Secondly, while we must focus on the VA, let's not forget the rest
of government. There is going to be $1.4 billion spent on homeless
in the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, and we have cer-
tainly not been getting our fair share of that $25 million I men-
tioned that HUD was wonderful in moving through the system very
quickly. Homeless veteran programs got less than two percent.

So there are other agencies and other parts of this government
that need to be addressing the issues of homeless veterans, as well
as the VA.

Mr. Evans. Good suggestions.

Congresswoman Waters, do you have any questions?

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

I may have a question or two and some comments, but before I
do that, let me again recognize Dr. Shay. I think he testified before
I came in the room, and I had this bright idea that I was going
to pass out what is essentially the Forward to his book that is to
be published by me and Dr. Shay, but my staff tells me that pend-
ing publication I should not do that.

But I want to thank Dr. Shay for getting involved in this whole
area of bad paper discharges, and it is an area that I am going to
spend some time on, and I think it is an area that we can begin
to look at and do right by some of our veterans.

So thank you, again. Dr. Shay, and I cannot pass it out because
I think I might violate something here. So I am going to hold onto

For this panel, let me just say, and for all of the pauiels, thank
you very much for your wisdom and your testimony, and I am anx-
ious to grab hold of some of these recommendations, to do some-
thing about them.

We did sign the letter to move up and to speed up the regula-
tions, but, Mr. Chairman, even looking at that, it looks as if that
may still be six months away if they start to implement them right
away, if they start to work on them.

So I will ask the chairman, and I will talk with him about the
possibility of taking some other actions to see if we cannot mandate
something in the next 30 days. I do not know, but I will talk with
the chairman about that, and maybe we can explore that possibility
because I am really sympathetic.

You are absolutely right. It is one thing to have a "feel good" con-
ference where we all talk good stuff and nothing happens, and that
embarrasses me. So I will work very hard to see if we cannot speed
that up.

Mr. Neely, I like your recommendations. I do not know what we
can do to start the idea of a planning process, but it sure sounds
good to me, and the other recommendation of how we can take a
look at providing rental housing or subsidies as opposed to, you
know, putting all of our eggs in the ownership basket makes a lot
of sense.


As you said, not everybody can be or really want to be maybe a
homeowner, and if that is the only way we relate to the real hous-
ing needs, maybe that is why we have got part of this big homeless
problem, and so, again, I would like to work with the chairman to
see if we cannot take a look at what we could do with that.

Mr. Neely. Thank you, ma'am.

Ms. Waters. Stand Down, I was sitting here listening to you be-
cause I guess one of my greatest learning experiences was going to
our Stand Down in Long Beach, and did I learn a lot and was I
impressed, and I want you to know I took the model and went back
and developed a program, help put the final touches to a program
I had been working on for inner city youth and former gang mem-
bers, and got with some of the planners of our Long Beach Stand
Down to see how we could use the Stand Down concept to pull
these kids in and process them for what I call the 17 to 30

You are absolutely right. There needs to be follow-up. We decided
as we worked with these youth that after we do the processing, we
were bringing them into the program where we would provide sti-
pends, but we also have written into this program ongoing case
management and social services because if you stop the homeless
veterans and pull them in, as with these young people we are
working with, and they are of a mind to see if they can pull their
lives together and get off drugs if they are on drugs or get some
job training, et cetera, being let out in three days or two days, I
think, is the same kind of feeling that people had when they were
cut loose from Vietnam and all of a sudden now what do I do?

And quickly that begins to degenerate into these feelings of hope-
lessness, et cetera, but if we could build Stand Downs into an ongo-
ing program where we attach to it that kind of case management
and follow-up so that if somebody comes and they connect with job
training, we follow through. Because if you are homeless and you
go into job training, you need a lot of other things to keep you

I really like Stand Downs an awful lot, and I wish we could insti-
tutionalize it, and again, I would like to work on seeing what we
could do with that, even above and beyond equipment and supplies,
et cetera; how we could institutionalize the case management of
the follow-through to go along with having, you know, stopped all
of these people dead in their tracks and having them take a look
at how they can change their lives.

So we really have an appreciation for it, and I know that the
chairman does, too. So your testimony is valuable, and your counsel
is extremely wise, and I do have, you know, an even better appre-
ciation for the community-based organizations, and what you say
is absolutely true. I mean as you relate it to the nonprofit housing
developers, et cetera, et cetera, it all comes into focus, and it all
makes good sense.

I think that we are perhaps inspired and made to think a little
bit more how we can use this terribly cumbersome process to try
and deal with some of these issues in new and different ways. I am
committed to it, and thank God for Lane Evans.

Mr. Evans. I would ask the gentlewoman from California to take
the chair for a few minutes, if she would.


Ms. Waters, (presiding) All right, Mr. May.

Mr. May. I just wanted to respond to a couple of your remarks,
especially around youth. One of my recommendations in the writ-
ten testimony was that how wonderful it would be to create a
Stand Down that brought veterans and youth together in a three-
day encampment.

Many of us speak in high schools and universities throughout
California about the Vietnam experience in an attempt to bring
some counsel to youth. The outcomes, I mean, just the response
from kids in high schools is just incredible, and I cannot imagine
that the same thing would not occur if veterans with their wisdom
of pain, horror and sensitivity could not bring these experiences to
the youth in this country.

I mean nothing else is working in trying to get these kids to put
their guns down. Not only that these kids who are out in the street
with automatic weapons will have the same degree or worse PTSD
than any of us combat veterans have experienced coming through
the Vietnam War.

Ms. Waters. Thank you very much.

I thank you again for coming and sharing your testimony and
your wisdom with us, and I think it will go a long way toward help-
ing us to understand what we can do. Thank you.

I would like to call our witnesses for our fourth panel: Ingrid
Sarembe, Antonio Molina Cabrera, Michelle Benecke, Nancy Rus-
sell, and Dr. Edwin Richardson.

We will start with Ingrid Sarembe. Am I pronouncing that cor-

Ms. Sarembe. Sarembe.

Ms. Waters. Sarembe, okay.



Ms. Sarembe. Thank you so much.

Madam Chairman, members of the subcommittee, I thank you all
for the opportunity to be here today to give this testimony on be-
half of H.R. 3013. Now, I am here on behalf of Enlisted Women
Veterans Group and women vets who have given support to estab-
lish a women veterans center within the Department of Veterans

I have included for the record a copy of our written statement,
and I also thank the Joiner Center for the Conference on Veterans
Affairs and their support of vets, and giving us this forum and an
ability for us to express our concerns to the committee.

I would like to just briefly take a moment and explain from a
personal and emotional need why this position is so important for
women. When I was in the service, which was 28 years ago, but
when I was in the service, I was unfortunately a woman who had


been abused by two men. I made a mistake of getting into a car
with two male acquaintances, and they kidnapped me and held me
hostage for several hours. At the end of this ordeal what I got from
them very clearly and what they had said over and over and over
again as they threatened and attempted to harm me repeated was,
"We just wanted a female to rape." That is literally what one of
them said to me.

I was in that position, that predicament, that terrible injustice
because I am a female. It made no matter whether or not I was
a short female, a fat female, I had gray hair or I was wearing green
clothing. I was a female. Because of my gender I was submitted to
this kind of trauma.

That is the story unfortunately for a great number of women who
serve in the Armed Forces.

When I got out of the service, I was so full of self-loathing be-
cause I really felt that this was my fault, if I only had not done
this or if I only had not worn my clothes or if I only had not what-
ever, if I only had just been a man, I might not have been attacked
or if I only had been stronger, I might not have been attacked, and
all of that guilt caused me never to talk about this issue over the
years, never to deal with the pain, and furthermore, it really
caused a distance between myself and the veterans community and
other women. I never told most of the people I knew that I was a
veteran, that I had served the country during the time of war.

It has taken all of these years for me to be able to come forward
and speak about this, and that is only because I was hospitalized
at the Fort Miley VAMC in San Francisco two years ago, and I
have since then been diagnosed with PTSD.

When I went to the VA to talk to them about compensation and
what kind of benefits are there for women like myself, having been
a homeless woman, working — I work right now at a job that pays
me $250 a month plus room and board because that is at the mo-
ment all I am capable of working — and I find out that there are
several barriers, and this was several years ago before the passage
of Public Law 102-585, which allowed women to come forward and
deal with sexual trauma.

I finally came forward and asked them for a claims benefit adju-

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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 4 of 23)