The federal government has long held the goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. For those of you who are keeping track, that’s just a little over a year away (or less than a year depending on when you read this). Nobody’s doubting the nobility of the goal, of course, but with the veteran homeless population still numbering somewhere in the neighborhood of “astronomical,” we’re starting to have doubts about whether–as noble as it is–the goal is actually achievable.
The Washington Post recently reported that President Obama has authorized the pumping of almost $300 million into a variety of programs around the country that are actively working to provide housing and shelter to veterans. This was announced right after the VA Secretary announced that the agency was sending more than $200 million was being sent to rapid-assistance grants.
The response to these announcements has been overwhelmingly positive. Non profit agency coordinators as well as representatives from the office of Housing and Urban Development and within the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans say that these endowments and grants are going to help their housing projects become even more successful.
The programs are already doing well. Since the “end veterans homelessness by the end of 2015” goal was announced, the rate of Veteran homelessness has dropped more than 30%.
Even so, The Washington Post isn’t the only paper reporting that meeting the goal is going to be tough. The Chicago Sun Times recently reported that veterans make up a relatively small percentage of the total homeless population. Even more troubling, some families–including those being helped by grants from the VA and the federal government–would not have ever been “regarded” as homeless by other standards, because they had found space within the homes of friends and family members.
People in those situations often don’t get counted as homeless at all–not by other homelessness standards. These are veterans who are able to take advantage of programs like those offered at LowVaRates.com, programs to help vets take advantage of low mortgage rates and increased eligibility offered to them through their military benefits programs. Because these veterans have at least a temporary address, they often can’t (or, some feel, shouldn’t) be counted among the homeless veteran population.
Another issue that many have with the “end veteran homelessness by 2015” is that it does little to solve the problems that contribute to veteran homelessness in the first place. Many veterans lose their homes and housing because they are unable to find or hold down regular employment for very long after returning from service. This is because many veterans returning from service have severe cases of PTSD and service-induced mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, anger management issues among others).
The mental health issues many veterans battle every day, while never truly leaving the spotlight, has been front and center recently after a veteran jumped the fence at the White House.
The VA has a Mental Health department that is set up to help screen veterans who are fighting mental health disorders and to help them find the appropriate treatment for their issues. Unfortunately, the backlog for appointments–especially for those seeking mental help health–is long and many veterans are facing weeks (sometimes months) of wait time for those initial appointments. Some say that it isn’t money that is the issue here, but one of time and staff availability…though it could be argued that more money could hire more staff to help with the backlog and influx of patients.
But what about the veterans who don’t live within schlepping distance of a VA department? This is why organizations like NAMI are stepping in and trying to help veterans who aren’t able to secure appointments with their local VA offices find the help they need.
There is only one thing that everybody can agree on: the nation needs to do more to help its veterans. It’s something that people on both sides of the aisle can support…even if getting Congress to vote on anything is like trying to pull teeth without feeling squeamish. But that is a post for another time.