Massachusetts unveils plan to end veteran homelessness

Massachusetts officials unveiled an ambitious plan March 12 that they say will virtually end homelessness among military veterans over the next three years.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray detailed the proposal during a visit to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston. Murray said the state wants to reduce the number of homeless veterans in Massachusetts by 1,000 by the end of 2015. An annual one-night count of the homeless in Massachusetts in 2011 found 1,268 homeless veterans, about 7.6 percent of the state’s total homeless population. About 450 of those met the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of chronically homeless.

Murray said the plan will look at the needs of all men and women who served in the military, regardless of their discharge status. The state will work on getting homeless veterans into stable housing; making sure those most at risk of chronic homelessness remain in housing; ramping up access to benefits; and making sure state, federal and local resources are coordinated. Murray said the state plans to make 1,000 units of permanent housing available to homeless veterans over the next three years. Those include 700 new federal housing vouchers and 300 new and existing units of housing through the state Department of Housing and Community Development for homeless veterans not eligible for assistance from the VA.

The plan also calls for the development of regional lists of homeless veterans to help the state track the progress of individuals. Officials say the lists will help them better understand the plight of newly homeless veterans and how to better provide care for them. "No one who has ever worn the uniform of this great nation should struggle to find a roof over their head," said Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee. Officials said the state is using existing resources to pay for the program.

Resolution No. 306 (passed at the 94th National Convention) states The American Legion.  

• Renewed its commitment to assisting homeless veterans and their families.

• Continues to support the efforts of public and private sector agencies and organizations with the resources necessary to aid homeless veterans and their families.

• Seeks and supports any legislative or administrative proposal that will provide medical, rehabilitative, and employment assistance to homeless veterans and their families.

In other news:

Military sexual trauma: On March 13, the Senate Armed Service Subcommittee on Personnel conducted a hearing on the military’s policies on sexual assault. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, chairwoman of the committee, opened the hearing by insisting the promises of zero tolerance by military officials meant little if jury verdicts could be held aside and a single convening authority had sole discretion to set aside guilty verdicts and sentences, or to reverse a jury verdict. Gillibrand’s concern – echoed by first panelist Sen. Barbara Boxer of California – was directed at the recent action by Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin to overturn the guilty verdict in the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy. The incident is currently being reviewed under order by incoming Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Boxer insisted the single take away from the hearing should be to remove the ability to void decisions of the military justice systems from single individuals.

The American Legion’s concerns with Military Sexual Trauma in an active duty sense largely revolve around the problems these veterans later face with claims for disability and treatment. By resolution, The American Legion advocates for the same standard of evidence to apply in PTSD cases for MST as for combat, as both situations reflect a lack of concrete records in the service files. The American Legion also advocates for the military to retain records of the incidents indefinitely, as many of the records related to this are destroyed in three to five years.

Gulf War illness: On March 13, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations conducted a hearing looking into the state of research on Gulf War illness, most specifically regarding VA research. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, a Gulf War era veteran, chaired the hearing.

Read the Legion’s coverage here

Read National Commander Jim Koutz’s statement here.

Testimony on patient care: American Legion national field service representative Roscoe Butler on March 14 testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on "Waiting for Care: Examining Patient Wait times At VA." As Butler testified, "Whether it’s frustration with repeatedly being put on hold, waiting three quarters of a year for a basic, primary care appointment, or being forced repeatedly to adjust to new primary care providers, the needs of veterans are not being met."

Butler’s testimony can be found here.

Workforce certifications: The Economic Division staff met with Ben Goldstein, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy, and Lisa Lutz, president of SOLID, on March 12 to discuss developing national commercial "advanced energy" workforce certifications. One of the Legion’s top priorities is ensuring close alignment with the collaboration that is occurring on Army/Navy COOL and the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act.

The American Legion and the Departments of Defense and Energy are looking to embark on a project to work across industry and government to develop national certifications for the commercial building "advanced energy" workforce.

Credentialing: American Legion Executive Director Peter Gaytan and Economic Division staff met on March 14 with all service assistant secretaries for Manpower and Reserve Affairs: Thomas Lamont, U.S. Army; Daniel Ginsberg, U.S. Air Force; and Juan Garcia, U.S. Navy. This meeting and briefing discussed The American Legion’s military credentialing initiatives on a national and state level, collaborative efforts with Department of Defense, and how The American Legion can assist Department of Defense in overcoming military credentialing barriers.

Hiring Our Heroes: The Economic Division attended the Hiring our Heroes hiring event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The program kicked off with the highlighting of employers who are vetted and committed to hiring military spouses. There were more than 100 employers and service providers present. Some of the employers present were the Department of Veterans Affairs, Wal-Mart, Capital One, CACI, the U.S. Secret Service and the Prince William County Police Department.

SWS visit: Staff members conducted a System Worth Saving site visit March 12-13 at the VA medical center in Coatesville, Pa. The visit focused on women veterans health-care access and quality-of-care challenges. Over the two-day visit, staff members met with the executive leadership, women veterans program manager, patient advocate and the facility’s Women Veterans Health Committee. The System Worth Saving site visit team also conducted a tour of the facility and met with women veterans to solicit their feedback and ask how their care was at the facility.

POW/MIA Update

Staff Sgt. James McKain, U.S. Army, 5th Air Force, 43rd Bomb Group, was lost on May 7, 1944, near Nadzab, Papua New Guinea. He was accounted for March 2, 2013. He will be buried with full military honors in the spring of 2013, at Arlington National Cemetery.

• 1st Lt. Douglas H. Haag, U.S. Army, Company K, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, was lost between July 10-12, 1950, near Chochiwon, North Korea. He was accounted for Feb. 28, 2013. He will be buried with full military honors in the spring of 2013, in Louisville, Ky.

• Master Sgt. Ernest W. Grainger, U.S. Army, Company K, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, was lost July 11, 1950, near Chochiwon, North Korea. He was accounted for Feb. 28, 2013. He will be buried with full military honors in April 2013, in Conway, S.C.

Claims: During the week ending March 8, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 126 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 73.8 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 34 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 59 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 23 (18.3 percent) were outright denials.