Senate Passes Tester, Isakson, Hoeven, Udall Bill to Combat Native American Veteran Homelessness

Bipartisan Legislation to Fund Critical Tribal Housing Initiative One Step Closer to Law

(U.S. Senate)—The U.S. Senate has passed bipartisan legislation, sponsored by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to combat homelessness among veterans in Indian Country. 

The Senators’ Tribal HUD-VASH Act will formally authorize a joint tribal veterans housing initiative between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, which provides rental and housing assistance to homeless and at-risk homeless veterans.

“The men and women who served our nation made great sacrifices to keep us safe,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Every day that a Native American veteran spends without a roof over their head is a day that we have failed to uphold our nation’s promises to them. This bill is a step in the right direction to guarantee tribal veterans have a place to call home.” 

“No veteran should be without a home,” said Isakson. “This bipartisan legislation will help continue efforts to provide housing and supportive services to Native American veterans. America’s veterans fought to protect our freedoms and ensure our way of life, and as members of the Senate, we are responsible for ensuring that we take care of the veterans who dedicated their lives to serving our country.”

“It is critical that we work to strengthen resources and opportunities for those who have courageously served our country,” said Hoeven, Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “This legislation will bring certainty to an important housing program for Native American veterans, who serve in our nation’s armed forces in higher numbers than any other ethnic group. I am glad to work with my colleagues in the Senate to advance this bipartisan measure and help ensure our Native veterans have greater access to safe, affordable homes.”

“Tribal members in New Mexico and throughout Indian Country have a proud history of military service, and they have served our nation with valor and distinction. Unfortunately, Native veterans are disproportionally affected by homelessness and this is simply unacceptable,” said Udall, Ranking Member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “As we prepare for the Memorial Day weekend, I am especially thankful for all the men and women who so bravely gave their lives to protect our country. I am deeply grateful that we can honor all our veterans with passage of this important bipartisan legislation that ensures Native service men and women have full access to well-deserved housing resources when they return home.”

Prior to 2015, tribes and tribal housing authorities had been unable to access veterans housing funds even though Native Americans serve in the military at a higher percentage than any other ethnic demographic. In 2014 Congress passed legislation to set up an pilot initiative to provide Native Americans access to these funds. Twenty-five Tribes currently participate in the pilot initiative, which has helped house over 250 Native veterans. 

The Tribal HUD-VASH Act will provide stability to the Tribal HUD-VASH initiative to ensure Native communities can sustain their veteran outreach work. It authorizes the initiative and ensures that at least five percent of HUD-VASH resources are set aside for Native American tribes and tribal housing authorities to address veteran homelessness. The bill will also ensure that HUD and the VA modify the initiative through tribal consultation to better guide these newly available resources to homeless Native American veterans.

In addition, the bill directs the Indian Health Service to provide assistance to implement the initiative and directs HUD, the VA, and the Indian Health Service to conduct a review of the initiative every five years.

Tribal HUD-VASH Act will now go to the House for a vote.