This week (December 21, 2001) marks the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Comprehensive Assistance to Homeless Veterans Act 2001 (Public Law 107-95) âthe historic and comprehensive law I drafted for create a whole-of-government approach to mitigate and ultimately end homelessness for veterans.
Twenty years ago, approximately 300,000 veterans were homeless every night in the United States.
About 80% of them suffered from a disability, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) attributable to military service, and many patients suffered from chemical addictions, including alcohol and drugs.
It was a scandal of neglect of the government – of the men and women, who served our country honorably, on the streets of America.
To combat this epidemic, I drafted the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001, which created a whole-of-government initiative to find, save and help restore the lives of homeless veterans.
Real progress has been made in helping homeless veterans.
Today the number of homeless veterans on any given night has fallen to 37,250 – still far too many, but a remarkable drop thanks in large part to the programs included in my groundbreaking law and the work of many leaders. devoted to the VA and to the passion and commitment of American Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs).
One of the many programs authorized by my law that continue to provide significant assistance to veterans today is the Housing and Urban Development – Housing with Support Services for Veterans (HUD-VASH) program.
In the last fiscal year alone, the HUD-VASH program provided $ 40 million in new permanent housing grants and support services for veterans in need. And since 2008, this vital program has given more than 105,000 subsidized housing vouchers to more than 80,000 homeless veterans who now live in their own permanent housing.
The HUD-VASH program uses Housing First, a cost-effective, evidence-based approach to end homelessness for the most vulnerable and chronically homeless. Housing First prioritizes housing and then helps the Veteran access health care and other supports that promote stable housing and a better quality of life.
Many veterans who continue to receive essential life-saving assistance and housing through this program live in our community. The HUD-VASH program is used as a major source of rent assistance funding for veterans living in the new Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Village which opened last month in Tinton Falls.
Managed by the non-profit organization Soldier On, the new facility is an innovative housing complex that will provide 70 one-bedroom units in a state-of-the-art $ 23 million complex for homeless veterans in Monmouth County.
Case management services are also available through HUD-VASH to help eligible homeless veterans achieve and maintain housing stability while recovering from physical and mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction disorders. , and functional problems contributing to or resulting from roaming.
Another innovative and critical provision in my law authorized VA dental programs to dramatically improve oral and digestive health and help veterans gain greater self-confidence when applying for and keeping employment. Last year, approximately 12,000 veterans received dental treatment through the Homeless Veterans Dental Program.
The law allowed for extensive vocational training, expanded home care programs, and ordered the secretary to provide technical assistance grants to community nonprofit groups experienced in assisting homeless ex-combatants.
My Law also created a grant program for homeless veterans with special needs, including women caring for minors, frail elderly, terminally ill or
chronically mentally ill.
And he created the Homeless Veterans Advisory Committee to provide year-to-year reviews of the effectiveness of policies and services created to help homeless veterans. The fifteen-member committee includes experts in housing, medicine and mental health as well as community providers, homeless veterans, and vocational training and rehabilitation professionals who provide an annual report, with recommendations to the secretary for critical improvements if necessary.
Congress is carefully considering recommendations to improve services that promote homelessness prevention and the rehabilitation of veterans who have struggled to return to civilian life.
As a former chair of the House of Commons Veterans Committee and author of more than a dozen laws to help veterans, I remain committed to protecting veterans benefits and programs to ensure that veterans men and women who defended our country â and those who are serving our country today â continue to have access to the resources they have earned.
Christopher H. Smith, Republican of Hamilton, represents parts of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties in the United States House of Representatives.