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Witness Testimony of Katy Beh Neas, senior vice president, government relations easter seals inc.

Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano and members of this Subcommittee, Easter Seals thanks you for holding this hearing to review the performance of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP). Easter Seals is a national non-profit organization that provides essential community-based services and supports to veterans, military families, individuals with disabilities and others. Since World War II, Easter Seals has helped to address the unmet needs of U.S. soldiers returning home with new service-connected disabilities. Through our national network of 73 community-based affiliates, Easter Seals assists veterans and military families through our medical rehabilitation, caregiving, employment, adult day, therapeutic recreation, reintegration and other quality programs. Easter Seals regularly fills the gap between the services veterans and military families need and the services currently available through government or other entities.

Easter Seals appreciates the Subcommittee’s focus on the employment and reintegration needs of America’s veterans by examining HVRP and the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. The men and women who have served our country must have full access to the reintegration supports and services they need to help in their transition to civilian life. Easter Seals partners regularly with federal, state and private entities to help provide reintegration and other services and supports to veterans and military families. For example, Easter Seals trains caregivers of seriously injured Post-9/11 veterans for the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) National Veteran Caregiver Training Program. Easter Seals New Hampshire works with the New Hampshire National Guard and others to provide case management, counseling, housing support, employment and other services to help military families during their service to our nation. And through our partnership with the Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services, Easter Seals has teamed with businesses and community foundations to launch veterans’ employment, financial planning and reintegration programs in Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Oregon. Easter Seals believes no veteran or military family should suffer from a lack of access to or understanding of how to navigate reintegration services.

Easter Seals fully supports the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. HVRP is the only federally-funded program focused exclusively on the employment of veterans who are homeless. Congress created HVRP recognizing the critical role employment plays in recovery and understanding the unique, individualized needs of each veteran who is homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. The program provides job training, counseling, and placement services to expedite the reintegration of homeless veterans into the labor force. More than 16,000 homeless veterans or veterans who were at-risk of homelessness received job training and employment assistance through HVRP in its last recorded program year.  

One of the individuals helped recently through HVRP was Donald, a 48-year old veteran from Oregon. He enrolled in Easter Seals Oregon’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program earlier this summer looking for help in finding a job. The former Oregon Air National Guard Member had been out of work since 2008. With no steady income, Donald found himself homeless, broke and socially isolated. He was determined to get back into the workforce, but didn’t think he had much to offer an employer. Donald simply identified “general employment” as his goal when he entered the program. It wasn’t until an in-person meeting with his Easter Seals HVRP employment specialist that Donald talked about his time in the military as an aircraft fuel systems mechanic helper and his 14 years of experience as a forklift operator. The Easter Seals employment specialist recognized the many natural talents Donald had and the work skills he developed through past civilian and military jobs. Donald’s immediate goal was to get back into the workforce as quickly as possible. Donald dreamed of visiting all 48 states in the continental United States and, together with his employment specialist, identified a career as a long-haul truck driver as a viable, in-demand option.  His long-term goal was to earn a Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Easter Seals Oregon immediately connected Donald to transitional housing at a nearby Salvation Army housing complex and provided him with a monthly bus pass so he could easily attend meetings and, eventually, jobs interviews. Together with his employment specialist, Donald updated his resume, linked to the local VA center for other services, and registered with several staffing agencies in the region. Just a few short weeks after entering Easter Seals’ Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, Donald was hired by a local manufacturing company in a permanent job as a forklift operator. He works full-time and earns $10 per hour, with full benefits. Donald cited “networking skills, online job search assistance, resume update, housing stabilization, reliable transportation, and encouragement” as services that Easter Seals Oregon-HVRP provided that helped him get this job. Donald is also pursuing his long-term employment goal. Donald is applying to a local truck driving school that has an excellent track record in educating and finding jobs in the field for past Easter Seals HVRP clients. With the help of HVRP and the personalized attention of his Easter Seals employment specialist, Donald is working full-time, is in stable housing and is well on his way to achieving his long term career goal.  

Donald is just one of thousands of homeless veterans across the country being served through HVRP. The program works, in large part, due to the holistic, person-centered care coordination model that Easter Seals has used for several decades in helping individuals with disabilities achieve their dreams. Easter Seals commends Congress for creating a program that recognizes that veterans face multiple barriers to securing a job and maintaining stable housing. The HVRP model works directly with each veteran to develop an individualized employment development plan and to connect the veteran to training, employment services and other community supports to help achieve their goal. The Department of Labor noted in its FY 2014 budget justification that its traditional job training and employment programs are “often not well suited on their own to assist homeless veterans” and described how “helping homeless veterans requires a substantial amount of outreach and job development with employers as well as the coordination of individually tailored support services and training interventions.” HVRP providers can help to pay for reasonable expenses or connect them to available community services that are required for the veteran to succeed in achieving his or her employment goal. In the case of Donald, Easter Seals Oregon provided several supportive services to help him achieve his employment goal including the purchase of a monthly bus card and the connections to the VA and the local transitional housing provider. Other supportive services examples include child care, health care, assistive technology, and counseling.

Our nation has made tremendous progress in tackling the homeless problem among U.S. veterans. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2012 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness noted that veterans’ homelessness fell by 7.2 percent since January 2011 and by 17.2 percent since January 2009. HVRP and other programs developed and supported by Congress, including the Supported Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) Program, HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program, and Grant and Per Diem Program, have effectively provided the individualized support and assistance needed to reverse the trend of homelessness among veterans. While homelessness is declining, challenges still remain, particularly for women veterans and veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The VA’s National Center on Homelessness among Veterans reported in its supplemental report to Congress  that young OEF/OIF veterans and female veterans are at two times greater risk to become homeless than their non-veteran counterparts and three times at greater risk to live in poverty. The Department of Labor projected that it will serve 20,000 eligible veterans in FY 2014, with a particular focus on women veterans. Easter Seals affiliates in Indiana, Maryland, New York and Oregon have partnered with DOL to help accomplish this important goal. For example, Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis will help to meet the urgent needs of 150 homeless veterans in the eight-county region around Indianapolis. Easter Seals New York will serve more than 100 homeless female veterans living in the New York metropolitan area through a new HVRP. However, new resources and improvements to the HVRP program are needed to help meet the needs of these veterans.

Based on Easter Seals’ experience and our commitment to America’s veterans, we respectfully urge Congress to strengthen the HVRP program and to increase our nation’s effort to meet the reintegration needs of our veterans.

1.    Reauthorize the HVRP Program: The current HVRP authorization expires at the end of fiscal year 2013. Easter Seals endorsed the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2013 (H.R. 2150), which would extend HVRP through FY 2018. Easter Seals commends this Subcommittee for favorably reporting the bill to the full House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and we urge Congress to complete action on this critical legislation.

2.    Fully Fund HVRP: HVRP is currently authorized at $50 million annually, the save level proposed in the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act of 2013. However, the program has only been funded at $38 million the last two fiscal years. While we understand the difficult fiscal environment, Easter Seals recommends that Congress fully funds HVRP at its authorized level of $50 million to better meet the needs of homeless veterans and veterans who are at-risk for homelessness.

3.    Expand Veteran Eligibility of HVRP: Easter Seals supports H.R. 1305, which would expand eligibility to HVRP to also include veterans who are participating in and receiving rental assistance through the VA’s supported housing program (HUD-VASH) and veterans who are transitioning from being incarcerated. These vulnerable veterans should have access to HVRP. Easter Seals is pleased that the Subcommittee took the first step toward helping these vulnerable veterans by reporting the bill favorably to the full VA Committee.

4.    Create Waiver To Make Housing An Allowable Expense: The goal of HVRP is to leverage existing community housing resources by connecting eligible veterans to available transitional and affordable housing programs. Homeless veterans in some communities struggle to achieve their housing and employment objectives because of the lack of transitional or affordable housing in their area. The lengthy waiting lists and the prohibition on using HVRP funds to pay for rent or housing deposits delays and, in some cases, prevents a veteran’s ability to meet his or her goal. Easter Seals requests that Congress and DOL add an allowable expenses waiver to allow, on a case-by-case basis, a grantee to pay the first month’s rent or a deposit for an apartment as part of a veteran’s employment development plan.

5.    Create HVRP-Like Program To Address Reintegration Needs: The individualized, holistic care coordination model used in HVRP is the root of the success of HVRP. The model is a key component of the VA’s Supported Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program that is also aimed at preventing veterans’ homelessness. The community-based, holistic approach ensures veterans and their families have access to a continuum of care that is local, timely and effective. Easter Seals recommends that Congress create a pilot program at the VA that uses this holistic model to address the reintegration needs of veterans in need. Programs like HVRP and SSVF are targeted at a population when they are most at-risk. Providing veterans with these supportive services and access to care coordination earlier in the process will more quickly and effectively respond before the problems turn to crisis.

Easter Seals commends Congress and this Subcommittee for its commitment to helping to end veterans’ homelessness. The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program at the Department of Labor is one of the most effective tools in helping homeless veterans and veterans who are at-risk of homelessness to get back on their feet and contributing to their communities. Thank you for your support of HVRP and your interest in strengthening the program. Easter Seals looks forward to working with Congress to help America’s veterans and military families with the services and supports they need to succeed in their communities.