Tester Rolls Out Comprehensive Bill to Permanently Expand Pandemic Support to Homeless Veterans

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester is introducing legislation today to make permanent critical pandemic-relief resources that have become essential to providing the most effective care and support to unhoused veterans and their families. This legislation will be considered tomorrow during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.

The Chairman’s Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021 would permanently cut red tape on grants provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for organizations assisting veterans experiencing homelessness—extending provisions under Tester’s Grant Regulation Adjustment during the Coronavirus Emergency for Homeless Veterans (GRACE) Act of 2020. This bill would also ensure that organizations have the necessary funding to continue supporting veterans and avoid derailing their pre-pandemic progress toward effectively ending veteran homelessness. And it would expand veterans’ access to critical resources to help them get quickly back on their feet, including increased access to transportation, case management services, job training benefits, and improved transitional housing for aging veterans.

“While the country is turning a corner in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve still got a long ways to go in tackling veteran homelessness,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why I’m introducing legislation to keep pandemic-related safety nets in place that have become an essential lifeline in connecting more veterans with permanent and affordable housing through VA. This bill builds on our recent efforts to aggressively combat veteran homelessness, bringing us one step closer to ensuring every person who’s served this country has a safe place to call home.”

Among its many provisions, the Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021 will:

  • Permanently remove barriers on funding for construction of housing for veterans experiencing homelessness;
  • Provide organizations nationwide with the funding and flexibility to provide adequate services to unhoused veterans;
  • Allow VA to supply ending-homelessness organizations with the education and support to best serve our nation’s veterans;
  • Direct VA to evaluate and act on flexibilities and funding to combat the affordable housing shortage crisis;
  • Provide all veterans with access to case management services to connect them with the benefits and resources they earned;
  • Establish a five-year pilot grant program for community substance use recovery programs for unhoused veterans with preference given to programs assisting veterans who face barriers in accessing those services from VA;
  • Increase and extend funding connecting veterans with long-term, meaningful jobs;
  • Expand public transportation for veterans to access mental health care, medical treatment, job services, and other essential needs;
  • Ensure aging veterans are not left on the street while they await placement in long-term care; and
  • Request a true assessment by GAO of the challenges veterans and their advocates face in securing them permanent housing.

The Senator’s bill received strong backing from various Veterans Service Organizations nationwide and in Montana.

“We commend Chairman Tester for introducing the Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021,” said Kathryn Monet, CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). “This bill will allow organizations sheltering homeless veterans to continue to do so, safely and in accordance with CDC guidelines. It will also make key enhancements to Federal Programs by enhancing access to health care navigators, encouraging VA to offer more training to grantees, and permitting service providers the flexibility to maintain critical program adaptations. On behalf of NCHV and all of our members across the nation, thank you for your leadership and for proactively proposing legislative change to chart a better course for veterans experiencing and at-risk of homelessness.”

“The COVID 19 pandemic exposed the many holes that struggling veterans can fall through,” said Steve Peck, President and CEO of US Vets. “I commend Chairman Tester for working to fill in the gaps in VA's homelessness programs, to make sure that we have a stronger safety net for our most vulnerable veterans.”

“The Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act is integral to moving forward beyond the pandemic, as pandemic-relief measures have proved successful in combatting veteran homelessness,” said Jill Bonny, Poverello Center’s Director of Programs and Veteran Services. “The increased accessibility provided by these changes will help get partnering organizations back on track to effectively end veteran homelessness in the country. These measures will not only streamline case management care for veterans, they’ll also addresses systemic causes of homelessness such as employment, access to mental health and substance-use disorder services, and affordable housing. We are excited that Senator Tester is working on these issues—he has been a fierce advocate for Veterans in Montana and across the country. The veterans experiencing homelessness we serve depend on these efforts.”

“The Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021 gives the VA the tools it needs to address some of the most significant barriers to serving homeless veterans,” said Chuck Helget, Executive Director of the California Association of Veteran Service Agencies. “The provisions dealing with high-cost markets and older veterans will have an immediate impact for our members, which serve hundreds of veterans across the state experiencing homelessness each day.”

Earlier this year, Tester held a roundtable discussion with committee members, stakeholders, and veterans’ advocates to solicit feedback on crafting solutions to effectively end veteran homelessness nationwide.

Full text of the Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act can be found HERE.