[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Combat Veteran and former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin today expressing concern over a VA proposal to cut critical funding from programs that help reduce Veterans homelessness. While our country has made progress reducing Veteran homelessness by nearly 50% since 2009, last year Veteran homelessness increased for the first time since 2010.
“There are close to 40,000 homeless Veterans in our country,” wrote Senator Duckworth. “We are all dishonored when any Veteran is forced to lay their head down on the very streets they signed up to defend. It is alarming that VA even considered rushing through a drastic policy change that threatened to undermine the fight against Veteran homelessness and erode the hard-fought gains of the past several years.”
Earlier this month, VA stunned Veterans and advocates across the nation with a proposal to eliminate essential funding for the Supportive Housing Program, which is jointly run by VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That program, which is part of the initiative to end Veterans homelessness that Duckworth coordinated when she was an Assistant Secretary of the VA, provides Veterans with stable housing options and employment and health services like mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling. Facing an outcry from Veterans’ advocates, Secretary Shulkin reversed this proposal but announced a similar policy could emerge in 2019. Following Shulkin’s reversal, Duckworth wrote to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs to request that any funding bill legally prohibit VA from executing these changes in the Fiscal Year 2018.
Full text of Senator Duckworth’s letter to Secretary Shulkin is available below and online here.
Dear Secretary Shulkin:
I am writing to express my concern about proposals under consideration by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to convert a number of Special Purpose funding lines to General Purpose. Such a move could harm programs that help reduce Veteran homelessness. As you are aware, on any given night, there are close to 40,000 homeless Veterans in our country. These Veterans were willing to risk their lives in service to our nation and we are all dishonored when any Veteran is forced to lay their head down on the very streets they signed up to defend.
As a country, we have made progress reducing the rate of Veteran homelessness by nearly half since 2009. However, momentum stalled last year, when the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness increased for the first time since 2010. In light of this reversal, it is alarming that VA even considered rushing through a drastic policy change that threatened to undermine the fight against Veteran homelessness and erode the hard-fought gains of the past several years.
The proposal to convert Specific Purpose funds to General Purpose funds would harm programs that are critical in reducing homelessness and vital to getting the VA’s joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to eliminate Veterans homelessness back on track. Without your last minute reversal, $265 million and another $195 million under the VA’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget would have been impacted, potentially leading to the eventual cancellation of vital case management services. Case management services are a critical component of the HUD-VASH program, helping provide Veterans with stable housing options and connecting them with employment and healthcare services like mental health treatment and substance use counseling – services that are vital in helping the Veteran maintain housing in the community. The consequences of such a reallocation could cause irreparable harm and make achieving our goal of ending Veteran homelessness that much more difficult.
I appreciate the VA’s need for increased flexibility at the community level, and believe such changes could be beneficial if effectively implemented. However, the VA’s chaotic and confusing announcement of the proposed policy change was not effective. VA acted with inadequate transparency, insufficient congressional consultation and poor stakeholder consultation. I strongly urge VA honestly assess this botched effort and incorporate lessons learned to improve the policy development and implementation process.
I support your decision to halt the immediate implementation of this plan in 2018 and your commitment to bring together Veteran stakeholders and local homeless service providers and Congress in a more collaborative and transparent manner. Homeless Veterans are the most vulnerable amongst us and deserve the care and dignity they have earned – anything else is an unacceptable failure on our part.
Supporting our Veterans is my life’s mission and I believe eliminating Veterans homelessness is an ambitious, yet achievable goal.
In coordinating the joint VA-HUD initiative to end Veteran homelessness while serving with VA, I witnessed firsthand how much progress may be made when dedicated civil servants work together to pool resources, leverage stakeholder efforts and employ appropriate performance metrics. As a Senator, I remain committed to achieving this mission and remain ready and eager to work with you in achieving this goal. Working together, we can increase flexibility at the community level, while redoubling investments in critical programs like HUD-VASH, which has already proven effective in communities throughout the country.
Thank you for your continued service and for your continued attention to this matter.
United States Senator
***Press release courtesy of Tammy Duckworth***