Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, today I introduce legislation that would enhance and improve services for homeless veterans administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This bill addresses a number of areas related to care and benefits for homeless veterans. It would modify the funding mechanism for community-based services to homeless veterans, expand capacity of services for women veterans, and improve outreach to servicemembers who are at risk of becoming homeless.
First, this legislation would lift a number of restrictions on VA's grant and per diem program. This program compensates community shelters for the services they provide to homeless veterans. VA currently pays $27 per day to community shelters for each veteran served. However, $27 is barely sufficient to cover existing costs, and rising energy prices are stretching resources even more.
To meet the needs of their clients, many shelters seek additional sources of funding, but their per diem payments from VA are in turn offset by the amount of this additional funding. By eliminating this offset, the bill would enable providers to expand their services to veterans, and to receive funding from other sources to accomplish these expansions.
This legislation would also address the gap in domiciliary care for homeless women veterans. Women veterans are a growing proportion of the active duty force and overall veteran population. Homelessness among female veterans is a serious problem, and many facilities do not yet have the capacity to meet this demand. Domiciliary care is an essential component of treatment and rehabilitation, especially for mental health and substance abuse conditions which afflict many homeless veterans.
This bill would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure that domiciliary programs have the capacity to accommodate women veterans, and that their specific safety and security concerns are addressed. As women become a larger proportion of the homeless veteran population, VA must have the capacity to meet their needs.
Finally, this legislation would increase efforts to identify and assist servicemembers who are at risk of becoming homeless. It would make permanent an already established and successful program to aid incarcerated veterans in their transition back to civilian life. The program identifies at risk individuals and refers them to counseling and services, including health care, job training and placement, and housing.
Building on the success of that program, the bill would also create a similar program to identify and support at risk individuals in their transition from military to civilian life. It has been proven through smaller scale efforts that this process can reduce the incidence of homelessness and other problems among new veterans who are being separated from military service.
Over 1 million servicemembers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as they transition from military service to civilian life some will be at risk of homelessness. Any effort VA can make to assist these servicemembers will improve lives and reduce the demand for VA homeless services in the years to come. We have all heard the sad and shocking statistic that one out of every three homeless persons on the street at any given time is a veteran. This bill is another step in attempting to address and solve this shameful problem.
I believe that this bill adjusts existing programs to take full advantage of existing resources and effective initiatives. I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD
May 14, 2007