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Can We End Veteran Homelessness by 2015?

Population Drops, But Legal Problems Persist for Our Veterans

In 2009, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki promised to end homelessness among our Veterans by 2015.  VA deserves credit for the significant reduction in Veteran homelessness since 2009, but will VA reach this worthy goal?

According to “The State of Homelessness in America,” published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on any given night in January 2009 there were 75,609 Veterans homeless in the U.S.  That number declined to 76,329 in 2010, 67,495 in 2011, and 62,619 in 2012.  That’s a significant and commendable 17% reduction in four years.

Challenges Remain

Regardless of progress, however, there are still far too many homeless Veterans, and our fellow Americans still face serious legal problems and obstacles.

VA seeks to remove those hurdles.  William F. Russo, who works in VA’s Office of the General Counsel, wrote in a recent blog post that mental health problems are a major underlying cause of homelessness.  He also stated VA has no statutory authority to provide or spend funds for legal services for Veterans facing challenges such as eviction, foreclosure, child support, criminal warrants, and fines.

Hopefully, the agency may soon be able to play a bigger role in solving the legal problems that contribute to Veterans’ homelessness by making pro bono legal clinics available for Veterans.

Congress Takes Action with S. 287

Earlier this year, the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Richard Burr (R-NC), introduced a bill to authorize the VA to “enter into partnerships with public or private entities to fund a portion of the general legal services…that are provided by such entities to homeless Veterans and Veterans at risk of homelessness.”

On Nov. 6, the Senate passed S. 287, the Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2013, and the measure was sent to the House of Representatives the following day.  Passage would allow VA to use existing funds to address the legal issues that keep many Veterans homeless.   This would provide additional resources so VA may reach the 2015 goal of ending homelessness among our Veterans.

Resources for our homeless Veterans are listed at VA’s web site.

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