The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a virtual forum on April 28 to address the “Coronavirus Pandemic Response: The Impact of Economic and Health Care Services on Homeless Veterans in America.” Committee members asked the single witness, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) CEO Kathryn Monet, about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on veterans experiencing homelessness.
In his opening remarks, Chair Mark Tanako (D-CA) stated that more than 7,000 veterans have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 430 have died from the virus. Ranking Member Phil Roe (R-TN) noted that 20 homeless services staff working with veterans have died from COVID-19. The committee discussed how some shelters serving people experiencing homelessness have closed due to a lack of resources or staff as they try to follow public health guidelines. Millions of people have lost income as a result of the crisis and are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, which could lead to an increase in homelessness. Chair Tanako mentioned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health centers are treating all veterans regardless of discharge status. He noted that while funding in the CARES Act has helped maintain services, more resources are needed to protect veterans experiencing homelessness. In his remarks, Ranking Member Roe stated that staying home is impossible if someone does not have a home.
In her testimony, Ms. Monet of NCHV shared that 4% of COVID-19 related deaths in Washington, DC, were homeless veterans, even though they make up only 1% of the total population. She noted that veterans experiencing homelessness are at higher risk for contracting the virus due to underlying health conditions and age. Ms. Monet stressed that increased funding is needed for HUD-VASH, mental health services, and personal protective equipment for homeless service providers. She encouraged efforts to secure permanent housing for homeless veterans to reduce homelessness during and after the pandemic, estimating that an investment of $1.34 billion will be needed in 2021.
Representatives Julia Brownley (D-CA) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL) shared that women veterans, especially those with children, are less likely than men to access VA services. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Gil Cisneros (D-CA), and Mike Leven (D-CA) posed questions about the use of the HUD-VASH program during the pandemic, citing the availability of case managers, mental health services, and permanent supportive housing options to support veterans.
View the recording at: https://tinyurl.com/y9v87snm