VA hopes to add 2,000 beds for homeless veterans
WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs officials hope to add more than 2,000 new beds for homeless veterans for its outreach efforts if Congress reauthorizes a transitional housing program later this year.
A report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office praised the VA for its homeless programs, but noted that the department is about 9,600 beds short of the 45,000 transitional beds it expects it will need next year.
An estimated 194,000 veterans were homeless in 2005, according to the VA.
Pete Doherty, director of homeless programs for the VA, said the majority of those homeless are middle-aged and served during the Vietnam War.
Of the more than 16,000 veterans served through the grant and per diem program last year, about 2,500 reported serving in the Middle East, according to the GAO. Doherty said in interviews that only a few hundred of those are troops who served in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re much more attuned now to getting (those troops) into health care or counseling services right away, so the numbers are still pretty small,” he said. “But it’s obviously a big concern to see them.”
The grant and per diem program, which allots funding to non-VA homeless assistance facilities with veterans, provides services such as temporary housing, job training and rehabilitation counseling.
The number of beds under the grant program alone had grown from 2,000 six years ago to more than 8,000 this year, with a cost of about $67 million.
Congress is scheduled to re-examine the program later this month and decide whether to approve funding for next year. Doherty said if the money is reauthorized, officials plan to make 2,200 more beds available through the program.
That should assist nearly 5,000 more veterans in 2007 alone, because veterans typically spend only a few months at the facilities before moving on.
GAO researchers said the VA needs to improve communication about the funding available and the limits on how long veterans can spend in transitional housing.
Doherty said that work began earlier this year, with the department adding more liaison staff and holding more regional meetings with service providers to explain the grant programs rules and regulations.