If there is one group of individuals this country should be looking after, it is those who have served their country. Yet, through the end of September, 26,531 of them were living on the street, at risk of losing their homes, staying in temporary housing or receiving federal vouchers to cover their rent. That number is up 16,000 from 2010.
President Obama promised to end veterans homelessness by 2015. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki says the VA is “on target” toward meeting the goal, but at the current pace that seems unlikely to happen. Shinseki, a former Army four-star general, says the gains so far are the result of an aggressive two-pronged strategy to not only take veterans off the street but also prevent new ones from ending up there.
That outreach is due to some rare bipartisanship. Congress and the Obama administration have agreed to huge increases in the budget for VA health care and other services to the homeless, from $3.6 billion in the 2010 budget year to the proposed $5.8 billion for 2013.
Congress also has consistently raised funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the VA’s main partner in the homeless effort.
Randy Brown, spokesman for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, says that making a transition to civilian life and getting a job or an education just does not come that easily.
The lingering effects of two wars, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and a slow economy are difficult hurdles to overcome.
The issue will become even more serious because 307,000 troops are scheduled to be discharged in each of the next four years.
A new program called Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families has seen its budget grow from $60 million in 2010 to $300 million next year.
Some 22,000 veterans were assisted last year. They included 14,000 who were homeless. Administrators found one veteran living in his car with his family of six.
Given the number that need assistance, 22,000 is a humble beginning.
Vincent Kane, director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, is overseeing operations in 151 different communities and almost every state.
We wish the president well in meeting his goal. As we wrote earlier in this editorial, there is no group more deserving.