STATEMENT OF PETER H. DOUGHERTY
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
BEFORE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
December 18, 1997
Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee on Benefits.
My name is Peter H. Dougherty and it is my pleasure to speak to you about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' national efforts to assist homeless veterans. As this subcommittee attempts to improve the supply of transitional housing for veterans that have been homeless, you can be assured that our department will work diligently with you to improve this critical aspect in the rehabilitative process. It is both a personal and professional pleasure to appear before you since I served for four years as a member of this committee's professional staff and know first hand the commitment of the Members of Congress and staff of the committee to serving our nation's veterans.
You requested our comments on H.R. 3039, the "Veterans Transitional Housing Opportunities Act of 1997." Due to the complex nature of this proposal and the relatively short amount of time we have had to review it, we are unable to provide you with comments and costs at this time. VA is carefully reviewing this bill and hopes to provide the Committee with our comments and cost estimate when the Second Session of 105th Congress convenes in January.
VA has over 100 specialized programs assisting eligible homeless veterans. Those programs which operate across the country are largely limited to those veterans with diagnosed mental health disorders, including substance abuse problems. VA's specialized programs include the Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) and the Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) through which we treat up to 40,000 veterans annually. In addition, VA offers a full range of medical, readjustment and other benefit services to eligible homeless veterans through mainstream programs at our hundreds of inpatient and outpatient facilities.
Your letter of invitation also asks us to discuss innovative ways to increase the supply of transitional housing for homeless veterans. The provisions of safe, sober housing for homeless and formerly homeless veterans is essential to the long-term interest of our nation's health care and economic benefit assistance to homeless veterans. I would like to outline for the subcommittee programs and partnerships VA has and is building upon to increase the opportunities to improve the effectiveness of the care VA provides to our nation's veterans.
VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program, Project CHALENG (Community Homeless Assessment Local Education and Networking Groups), and Stand Downs are dynamic vehicles which have helped to foster new and innovative partnerships in services to men and women who wore this nation's military uniform.
Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program
During the past four years, VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program awarded more than $21 million to 101 entities in 36 states and the District of Columbia for the purchase of new vans for transportation, establishment of veterans service centers, mobile medical and counseling services, and provision of more than 1,700 bed units of transitional housing. This program has awarded funds to large programs in some of our nation's largest cities, and we also helped many of the smallest towns in the country. Funds were also awarded to Native American tribes and tribal partnerships.
In Western New York we awarded three grants that show the flexible nature of the program. In 1994, $100,750 was awarded to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester to provide health care services and mobile outreach, particularly to rural homeless veterans. In 1995, $369,000 was awarded to the Society of St. Vincent dePaul in Buffalo to acquire and renovate a building to provide a multi-services center in collaboration with other community service providers. In 1996, $364,845 was awarded to Veterans Outreach Center, Inc., in Rochester to acquire and renovate a building to provide 20 beds of supportive housing for homeless veterans. Because of the flexibility the Congress gave us to administer this program, projects are developed to meet local needs. Thus, no two of them are alike.
The Congress recently reauthorized this program for an additional two years and we hope we will be able to expand upon these successful efforts. This is an excellent program that encourages veteran communities across the country to identify their local needs and develop a competitive proposal.
While the grant program is well under way, the ongoing services to homeless veterans under the per diem program is also quickly coming on-line. I am happy to report to the subcommittee that, as of today, more than 500 bed nights of care are eligible to be reimbursed under the per diem portion of this program. Each day that number is expanding as more grantees are bringing their programs on line. There is a rich tapestry of diverse housing programs being offered and veterans being served.
A recent review of beds currently in operation has shown us that this program is working well with traditionally underserved veterans. Fifteen percent (15%) of the available beds and five percent (5%) of the occupied beds are used by women veterans. Those numbers are substantially higher than those offered and served in the past.
As a result of recent congressional action, VA is now mandated to review the effectiveness of this program, and I am confident that the review will show that this is an excellent investment of taxpayers' money.
Let me further comment on Project CHALENG. The Public Law 105-114 requires VA Medical Center Directors and Regional Office Directors to assess the needs of homeless veterans in their area of service. This assessment is to be done in meetings with wide representation and coordination with the community to examine the need for health care, education and training, employment, shelters, counseling and outreach services. Each local assessment is to create informational lists of services available in the area from all service providers; encourage the development of coordinated local plans to be used to improve VA's local efforts to assist homeless veterans as identified in the assessment; and to inform homeless veterans of non-VA services that are available to homeless veterans.
As someone who works in VA to create and improve community partnerships, I can tell you that in many areas of the country these meetings have been a catalyst to create proposals that are extending housing and resolving other unmet needs of homeless veterans. More than 200 sharing agreements between VA and community providers have occurred since we started CHALENG four years ago.
This year's CHALENG report demonstrates that this local assessment process is having positive and substantial results. While the report on the program is not yet complete, local participants identified $27 million in funding coming in from a variety of sources during the past three years to address the needs of homeless veterans. Some of those new resources may have come from the VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program; however, the majority of funds came from other sources including federal, state and local sources, veteran service organizations and other charitable organizations.
HCHV and DCHV
Providing needed care to homeless veterans is a significant national challenge. I would be remiss if I did not mention that VA's Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) and Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) programs are providing services to nearly 40,000 homeless veterans annually. These programs, which were authorized ten years ago, have provided one-quarter-million former members of our military services with an array of services. I should note that the HCHV program annually contracts with more than 100 community-based service providers to offer residential care and services to homeless veterans.
As a result of a community effort ten years ago, VA partnered with tens of thousands of volunteers to offer homeless veterans a temporary respite from the battle of life on the street, in emergency shelters, under bridges and in the woods. This would provide them with one-stop opportunities for services from a rich variety of service providers including many from outside VA. These events are commonly referred to as "Stand Downs".
Stand Downs are places were VA medical center staff typically provide health care screening and primary health care services to eligible veterans, Vet Center staff offer counseling services, and Regional Office staff offer benefits assistance. We stand ready to assist those tens of thousands of veterans with substance abuse and serious mental illness and other problems who are ready to move on to sobriety, healthy living and re-entry into mainstream society including, if possible, returning to the world of work.
VA is proud to be partners with state and local governments, other federal agencies including Social Security, Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS), HHS's Public Health Service, HUD, veterans service organizations, community-based service organizations, health care facilities, schools, religious organizations, police, employment programs, private business and others to offer services to veterans. A review of Stand Downs from 1994-96 revealed that more than 225 events were held across the nation. It would appear that more than 80,000 veterans, spouses and children participated in these events.
VA operates 206 vet centers in cities and towns across our nation. These centers and their dedicated staff members serve as a point of contact with their community. Vet centers have estimated that 10% of veterans seen by their staff are homeless.
Sales and Lease of Foreclosed Property
The Veterans Benefits Administration, through its Loan Guaranty Division, has overseen the sale at a discount of 67 homes and lease of 57 homes to homeless service providers. Sales with deep discounts and leases of $1 per year were authorized by Public Law 102-590 and that authorization was continued under Public Law 105-114. This program is a welcome addition to many small service providers and I can tell you that we can be proud to have these formerly foreclosed homes available as places where homeless persons, including homeless veterans, can eat, sleep and recreate peacefully.
The opportunity to return to work is also very important in the full rehabilitation of many veterans who are or who have been homeless. VA's Compensated Work Therapy Program (CWT), while not only available for homeless veterans, is a significant therapeutic program available at more than 100 locations across the country. This program provides, in part, the opportunity to experience and accept the responsibility of employment as part of the patients' VA treatment program.
CWT works with more than 13,000 veterans each year and during our last reporting year those veterans earned more than $25 million. This real job experience is critical to helping these veterans return to work since most have long periods of unemployment or have poor work histories since leaving military service. A job, in many cases, is what gives that formerly homeless veteran the drive to continue to maintain his or her health and sobriety and to fully reintegrate into society.
Our Department is always willing to work with you Mr. Chairman and other members of this committee and your staff on ways to improve housing and other opportunities to improve the lives of veterans.
My colleagues and I are prepared to answer your questions.