The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing, “Ending Homelessness Among Veterans: VA’s Progress on its 5 Year Plan,” on March 14.
“Many questions focused on the findings of a December 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Homeless Women Veterans: Actions Needed to Ensure Safe and Appropriate Housing,” which found the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and HUD could do more to improve the services provided to female veterans experiencing homelessness. Many questions also focused on “Audit of the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program,” a report released by the VA’s Inspector General (IG) on March 12.
Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed particular concern that in some instances, the transitional housing and shelter provided through the VA's Grant and Per Diem Program does not meet the unique needs of women veterans. "The IG found that there were serious safety and security concerns for homeless women veterans, especially those who have experienced military sexual trauma. They found: bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks; halls and stairs without sufficient lighting; and mixed gender living facilities without access restrictions,” said Chair Murray (D-WA).
In response to the GAO report, on February 15, Chair Murray, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) sent a letter to the VA and HUD asking for information on the specific steps the agencies plan to take to address the issues raised in the report.
Two witnesses, Sandra Strickland and Chanel Curry, who are Army veterans, both reported on their personal experiences with the VA with addressing their housing needs. Ms. Strickland said that she found VA programs to not be designed with women and children in mind, and that she often felt unsafe while receiving services through the VA.
Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) said that the VA “is somewhat ignorant of what tomorrow has in store,” and noted that while this may not be intentional, the VA also seems to be unaware of successful practices in communities across the country.
In a second panel, Lisa Pape, National Director, Homeless Programs, VA, said in response to a question from Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) that the VA is improving its data system to better align it with information collected by local continua of care in Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS). Ms. Pape and Pete Dougherty, Acting Executive Director, Homeless Veterans Initiatives Office at the VA, also described how the VA aims to streamline its service delivery processes, and noted that they have requested funding for more staff to assess whether or not an individual experiencing homelessness is a veteran.
An archived hearing webcast and all witness testimony are available at: http://1.usa.gov/yFNLva
The GAO report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-182
The IG report is available at: http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-11-00334-115.pdf
The letter to the VA and HUD is available at: http://1.usa.gov/xIJqR7