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Homeless vets: better, but more to be done

Homeless vets: better, but more to be done

Leaders of The American Legion’s Economic Division say they are encouraged by the latest government report showing a continued decrease in the rate of homelessness among military veterans. On Dec. 10, the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development announced that the number of homeless veterans dropped by about 7 percent between January 2011 and January 2012. The veteran homeless rate had dropped 12 percent the previous year, according to those same sources.

"This report continues a trend that clearly indicates we are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said. "While this is encouraging news, we have more work to do and will not be satisfied until no veteran has to sleep on the street."

American Legion Economic Commission Chairman Harold "Dale" Barnett, echoed the secretary’s words, saying, "The American Legion is pleased to see the sustained decline in veteran homelessness. It is clear that the unprecedented funding and various programs within the VA is making a difference. It’s vital that VA maintain adequate funding for these programs."

Legion leadership, in fact, adopted a resolution in August 2012 calling for the organization to "renew its commitment to assisting homeless veterans and their families…continue to support the efforts of public and private sector agencies and organizations with the resources necessary to aid homeless veterans and their families (and) seek and support any legislative or administrative proposal that will provide medical, rehabilitative and employment assistance to homeless veterans and their families."

In its Dec. 10 press release concerning veteran homelessness, VA also announced the availability of $300 million in grants for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families. This program, said VA, has served approximately 70,000 veterans and their family members facing homelessness.

Tied to homelessness, naturally, is unemployment. While overall veteran unemployment is below the national average, the jobless rate among young veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is alarmingly high – well above average. "This concerns us greatly, but in terms of unemployment itself and the homelessness it precipitates," Legion Economic Division Director Joe Sharpe said. "In terms of employment, we would like to see better assessments of transitioning servicemembers so they can migrate easily into civilian vocations. The Legion also continues to campaign aggressively in favor of civilian professional and trade licensing and certification for servicemembers either prior to discharge or with minimal training afterwards. These measures can help greatly to mitigate homelessness among veterans."

"We hope the public and private sectors continue their veteran hiring initiatives in spite of the lagging economy," Economic Division Deputy Director Mark Walker added. "There also needs to be unrelenting efforts in letting veterans know of their healthcare and educational benefits – particularly those in rural areas. Furthermore, VA must maintain constant contact with its community partners to ensure that homeless veterans are finding the right programs that fit their unique needs. The VA and other stakeholders must continue to do all they can so no homeless veteran who desires help is denied."

Shinseki first announced his department’s plan to end veteran homelessness "within five years" at the Legion’s 2009 national convention in Louisville. He later reflected, "I know that a goal of zero homeless veterans is ambitious, but a high target is necessary so that everyone puts in their best efforts."

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