Department of Veterans Affairs Reverses Decision to Cut Homeless Vets Program

Days after Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin appeared at a Washington shelter with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to praise and applaud President Donald Trump’s promise to house all homeless vets, the agency turned around and announced that it was pulling resources out of a major housing program. Now the VA appears to be backtracking on that plan to reallocate nearly half-billion dollars from the housing program, after experiencing significant anger and blowback from lawmakers and advocacy groups.

Shulkin, nominated by Trump and unanimously confirmed by the Senate on February 13, 2017, said recently that his agency was ending what has been considered a successful $460 million program that dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans. The money would then instead be reallocated to local VA hospitals to use as they see fit, as long as they demonstrate that they deal with homelessness in some capacity.

Anger exploded over the decision from all sides. Advocates for veterans, state officials, and even officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which co-sponsors the program, attacked the decision.

“I don’t understand why you are pulling the rug out,” Elisha Harig-Blaine, a National League of Cities housing official, said in an interview, via Politico. “You’re putting at risk the lives of men and women who’ve served this country.”

Harig-Blaine also spoke with the Washington Post:

It’s just unconscionable to take this action without consulting HUD or the many mayors who have been working so hard on this. The former troops who used these vouchers are the most likely to die on American streets.

“The VA is taking its foot off the pedal,” said Leon Winston, an executive at Swords to Plowshares, which helps homeless vets in San Francisco. He said the VA decision is already having an impact there. HUD recently put up 100 housing vouchers for veterans in the program, but the local VA hospital said it could only provide support for 50. In other words, the VA hospital cut support for the homeless in half.

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