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Submission For The Record of National Coalition of Homeless Veterans

Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle, Ranking Member Michael Michaud,

and distinguished members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,
Subcommittee on Health:

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is honored to present this Statement for the Record for the legislative hearing on April 16, 2012. On behalf of the 2,100 community- and faith-based organizations NCHV represents, we thank you for your commitment to serving our nation’s most vulnerable heroes.

For the purposes of this statement, NCHV would like to formally indicate its support for the following three bills:

  • H.R. 4079, Rep. David McKinley’s “Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act.”
  • H.R. 3723, Rep. Bobby Schilling’s “Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011.”
  • H.R. 1460, Rep. Bill Owens’ bill to provide for automatic enrollment of veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system.

H.R. 4079, “Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act”

Among the homeless veteran programs that would be affected by this legislation is the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) – which provides transitional housing with supportive services, and is a staple of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness.

A vast majority of homeless veterans must address mental illnesses, substance abuse disorders, physical disabilities, or co-occurring disorders. The road to recovery for GPD participants often results in triumph, but it is not without tribulation. A safe environment is critical to ensure this rehabilitation can happen.

Existing GPD capital grant regulations require compliance with the Life Safety Code of the National Fire Protection Association, as well as local and state codes and licensing requirements. The “Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act” would establish these policies as federal law.

Numerous homeless shelters across the country have witnessed fatal fires. We have the technology, however, to prevent these tragedies from happening. H.R. 4079 would signal to VA’s community-based service provider partners the importance of meeting these safety measures.

As Congress works to protect homeless veterans and their families, it must not create undue obstacles for those who wish to serve them. The “Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act” offers a short-term safeguard for homeless veteran programs currently receiving federal funds – those that do not already meet the required certification would have up to two years to come into compliance.

We believe the essential components of the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness are in place and advancing – these include access to safe housing, health services, income stability and prevention strategies. Without ensuring the safety of veterans in rehabilitative housing programs, however, our efforts to end their homelessness will be incomplete. This bill takes a sensible approach to help protect America’s former service members.

H.R. 3723, “Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011”

Homeless veteran service providers have long recognized the need for an “open door” policy that ensures veterans have access to immediate primary and mental health services. This legislation would promote this policy by replacing VA’s fee-based care system with the contract-based “veterans enhanced care program.”

At present, it is incumbent upon the veteran – no matter his or her disability level – to travel potentially hundreds of miles to the nearest VA medical facility to apply for fee-basis care. H.R. 3723 would remove this unnecessary burden by allowing qualified service providers to enter into contracts with VA to serve eligible veterans in areas that are underserved by VA facilities.

The provisions in this bill cover primary medical care, mental health services, and long-term rehabilitative care – all of which are critical to the overall health and well-being of veterans, particularly those who have served in combat and combat support operations.

For vulnerable veterans in highly rural and underserved areas, the “Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011” will provide much-needed relief, and enhance the responsiveness of the VA. NCHV supports this bill’s patient-centered approach to providing medical care.

H.R. 1460, to provide for automatic enrollment of veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system

Although combat exposure is not definitively linked to homelessness, it is a high predictor of later difficulties in life. The full scope of this relationship remains unclear, however. By automatically enrolling veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system, H.R. 1460 would enable our nation to build a comprehensive record of the health care services required by these veterans. This is critical to the VA’s full understanding of the health issues related to combat exposure, and the agency’s ability to effectively plan for the services it will have to provide to combat veterans in the long term.

This bill protects service members’ autonomy by including an option not to enroll during their discharge or separation process. Additionally, all veterans would have the option to “disenroll” for a period of up to six months after their initial enrollment.

In Summation

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this Statement for the Record. We look forward to working with this subcommittee to help advance H.R. 4079, H.R. 3723, and H.R. 1460 to the full committee and House of Representatives.

John Driscoll

President and CEO

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

333 ½ Pennsylvania Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-546-1969


 NCHV Staff Biography
John Driscoll, President and CEO

John Driscoll joined the staff of NCHV in January 2002. He served in the U.S. Army from 1970-1980, including a tour as an air-evac medic and platoon sergeant with the 575th Medical Detachment during the Vietnam War. After returning from Vietnam, he served as the senior clinical specialist on the Surgical Intensive Care Unit of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., from 1973-1980, and remained a certified medevac specialist for both fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft until his discharge from the service.

Driscoll graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 1988, and spent 13 years as a group newspaper editor for the Chesapeake Publishing Corporation. As a journalism student intern in 1987, he wrote a series on homeless veterans living on the streets of the nation’s capital which was submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration in two categories by Chesapeake Publishing.

Significant publishing credits while working with NCHV, in partnership with the Department of Labor-Veterans Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS), include “Planning for Your Release, A Guide for Incarcerated Veterans,” distributed to more than 20,000 employment specialists, transition assistance counselors and incarcerated veterans – this guide was adapted by the Department of Veterans Affairs for its state-specific transition resource guides; “Assistance Guide for Employment Specialists Helping Homeless Veterans,” used by DOL-VETS as a training resource for homeless assistance providers; and the “HVRP Best Practices Project,” a study of 36 community-based programs cited for exemplary performance in helping formerly homeless veterans prepare for and obtain steady, gainful employment.

Driscoll is responsible for the development of the NCHV website (www.nchv.org) into the most comprehensive homeless veteran assistance on-line resource in the nation, providing information and service referrals to more than 85,000 visitors each month. His work with veteran assistance programs nationwide gave rise to the nation’s first Veteran Homelessness Prevention Platform in 2006, a document that has helped steer development of initiatives to reduce the risk of homelessness for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their families. Eleven of the 18 recommendations in that document have been signed into law or are in various stages of development.

Driscoll has prepared testimony and has testified before both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on a number of landmark homeless veteran assistance initiatives since 2005. He meets regularly with the leadership of Federal agencies invested in homeless veteran services, and is frequently invited to speak as a subject matter expert on homeless veterans issues and assistance programs at conferences and symposia nationwide.

Driscoll served on the Charles County (Maryland) Special Olympics Committee for 14 years, is a guest lecturer on journalism ethics at the College of Southern Maryland, and sits on the Charles County Sheriff’s Disability Review Commission.


NCHV Disclosure of Federal Grants

 

Grantor:                                    U.S. Department of Labor

Subagency:                               Veterans’ Employment and Training Service

Grant/contract amount:              $350,000

Performance period:                  8/13/2010 - 8/12/2011

Indirect costs limitations or
 CAP limitations:                       20% total award

Grant/contract award notice
 provided as part of proposal:      Yes     

Grantor:                                    U.S. Department of Labor

Subagency:                               Veterans’ Employment and Training Service

Grant/contract amount:              $350,000

Performance period:                  8/13/2011 - 8/12/2012

Indirect costs limitations or
 CAP limitations:                       20% total award

Grant/contract award notice
 provided as part of proposal:      Yes