Sen. Murray Fights to Protect Services for Homeless Veterans

Sen. Murray Fights to Protect Services for Homeless Veterans

Bill prevents changes to VA policy that would cut off thousands of veterans from accessing housing services
MURRAY: We have a duty to care for veterans, not to create more barriers to care

Washington, D.C. – July 9, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced The Homeless Veterans Services Protection Act with cosponsor Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), which would prevent thousands of homeless veterans from losing access to housing services. VA’s proposed changes to the decades-old policy for homeless services would bar access for veterans who served less that than two years continuously, or who had an other than honorable discharge. This bill would ensure that those changes can never take place. Last week, Sen. Murray toured the Randall Apartments in Tacoma, a 35-unit complex that serves homeless veterans. She also met with representatives from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, local housing authorities, and community groups to discuss her new legislation.

“Our veterans made great sacrifices while serving our country and our commitment to them is especially important,” said Senator Murray. “This bill makes it clear that our country takes care of those who’ve served, and we don’t allow bureaucracy to dictate who gets a roof over their head and who doesn’t.… If we ever hope to end veteran homelessness, we must do everything we can to reach this goal, and I want to make sure that the VA’s policies are moving us in that direction.”

“As we work towards ending veterans homelessness, it is imperative that we use federal resources to help our servicemembers and their families in need,” said Senator Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Many of our vulnerable veterans saw combat and are fighting PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Instead of leaving these veterans out in the cold, we must ensure access to stable housing and other necessary services. This bill would codify VA practices that have proven to be effective in getting veterans off the street and into housing. I commend Senator Murray on her leadership and am proud to work with her on this important issue.”

The problem arose last year when a legal review concluded that veterans who served fewer than two years or had an other than honorable discharge may not be eligible for benefits such as housing services. As a result, when the VA instituted the policy last year, homeless shelters and providers who receive funding through the VA’s Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program were told to turn away new homeless veterans who didn’t meet the length of service or discharge requirements. Had this policy been fully carried out, this could have resulted in 15 percent of the homeless veterans population being turned away, and in certain urban areas could have been up to 30 percent. Sen. Murray introduced emergency legislation to reverse it, causing the VA to temporarily rescind the policy change.

The Homeless Veterans Services Protection Act being introduced today will ensure that in the future, veterans cannot be turned away from organizations because they don’t meet certain length of service or discharge requirements and that our country is fulfilling our promise to care for servicemembers and veterans.

Excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks for the record are below:

“The Administration set the difficult but commendable goal of eliminating veteran homelessness. Through tremendous efforts at every level of government, and with the help of community groups, non-profits and the private sector, we have made major progress toward achieving that goal.”

“But last year, after a legal review of its policies, VA was forced to prepare for a change that would have cut off services to veterans who did not meet certain length of service or discharge requirements, changing policies that homeless service providers had followed for decades. That would be a heartless, bureaucratic move that could have put thousands of veterans on the streets—practically overnight.”

“As a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the daughter of a World War II veteran, I’m proud that the bill I have introduced today would permanently protect homeless veterans’ access to housing and services. This bill makes it clear that our country takes care of those who’ve served, and we don’t allow bureaucracy to dictate who gets a roof over their head and who doesn’t.”

“If we ever hope to end veteran homelessness we must do everything we can to reach this goal, and I want to make sure that VA’s policies are moving us in that direction. I don’t just believe that the United States can do better; I believe we must do better for those who’ve sacrificed so much for our country.”

Senator Murray’s remarks for the record are below:

“Mr. President, today I am introducing the Homeless Veterans Services Protection Act of 2015. This legislation would ensure continued access to homeless services for some of our country’s most vulnerable veterans who are currently at risk of losing these critical services.

“The Administration set the difficult but commendable goal of eliminating veteran homelessness. Through tremendous efforts at every level of government, and with the help of community groups, non-profits and the private sector, we have made major progress toward achieving that goal. But we know we have a lot of work to do. Veterans are at greater risk of becoming homeless than non-veterans and on any given night as many as 50,000 veterans are homeless across the United States.

“This is unacceptable. Our veterans made great sacrifices while serving our country and our commitment to them is especially important. This commitment includes providing benefits, medical care, support, and assistance to prevent homelessness.

“Two of our greatest tools are the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Grant and Per Diem program and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program through partnerships with homeless service providers around the country. These important and successful programs assist very low-income veterans and their families who either live in permanent housing or are transitioning from homelessness. The programs help our veterans with rent, utilities, moving costs, outreach, case management, and obtaining benefits.

“But last year, after a legal review of its policies, VA was forced to prepare for a change that would have cut off services to veterans who did not meet certain length of service or discharge requirements, changing policies that homeless service providers had followed for decades.

“That would be a heartless, bureaucratic move that could have put thousands of veterans on the streets—practically overnight. According to some of our leading veterans and homeless groups – including The American Legion, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans – had the policy been enacted, VA would have had to stop serving about 15 percent of the homeless veteran population, and in certain urban areas up to 30 percent of homeless veterans would have been turned away.

“The veterans community alerted me to this possible change– and while I’m proud that we prevented these changes in the short-term—it’s very concerning that a legal opinion could be issued at any time to undo all of that. There is good reason to reverse this policy for good. A report from VA’s Inspector General, issued just last week, shows how VA’s unclear or outdated guidance hurts veterans, and how VA’s proposed policy changes work against efforts to help homeless veterans.

“As a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the daughter of a World War II veteran, I’m proud that the bill I have introduced today would permanently protect homeless veterans’ access to housing and services. This bill makes it clear that our country takes care of those who’ve served, and we don’t allow bureaucracy to dictate who gets a roof over their head and who doesn’t.

“Many veterans struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, or simply finding a steady job-all factors that can lead to homelessness. And veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly becoming homeless – numbers that will continue to increase in the coming years unless help is available for them.

“The idea that any of these veterans returning from service could become homeless because of these policies is unacceptable. If we ever hope to end veteran homelessness we must do everything we can to reach this goal, and I want to make sure that VA’s policies are moving us in that direction. I don’t just believe that the United States can do better; I believe we must do better for those who’ve sacrificed so much for our country.

“Finally, I’d like to thank Senator Hirono for cosponsoring this bill and being a champion of the men and women who have served our country. Thank you.”

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