03 March 2009

President Affirms Commitment to Veterans

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- President Barack Obama's proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) affirms his administration's promise to swiftly address the needs of America's veterans, particularly those who are serving in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 15% increase proposed by the president will greatly improve delivery of critical health care, seamless transition from military service to veteran status, and the processing of veterans' benefits claims.

An equally historic testament of Obama's commitment occurred days before the release of his budget plan. On February 24, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan attended a historic meeting with the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). They pledged their personal support to the community-based organizations working to end and prevent homelessness among veterans.

NCHV, which represents those organizations, has played a key role in reducing veteran homelessness by more than 40 percent in the last eight years, and has led the campaign for record funding levels in the budgets of several federal agencies: http://www.nchv.org/news_article.cfm?id=496.

"Many of us are veterans ourselves," NCHV Board Vice Chairman Patrick Ryan said to the new Cabinet officers. "Most of us have been involved directly addressing the needs of homeless veterans in our communities in every state in this nation.

"In the last eight years, there has been a significant increase in federal support for funding available to NCHV member organizations that provide direct support for homeless veterans. Not coincidentally, there has also been a significant decrease in the estimated number of homeless veterans. While our members are grateful for the federal support and are proud of the tens of thousands of veterans who have regained their dignity and ability to contribute to society, we cringe when we recall the opportunities that have been lost to serve more veterans during this time frame."

Shinseki and Donovan acknowledged the role of NCHV in the expanding campaign to end veteran homelessness as Ryan offered the organization's resources and experience to achieve that goal. "We understand no single agency can adequately address all the needs of homeless veterans," he said. "We offer our help to break down the silos which prevent government departments from working together in the most effective manner possible. NCHV member organizations work with our cities, counties, states, federal agencies, and other community organizations - including veteran service organizations - to obtain the resources to be successful. We truly believe we are the most effective instrument in the quest to end chronic homelessness among veterans."

Ryan commended Congress for recent actions based on NCHV recommendations to expand funding for veteran permanent supportive housing initiatives within HUD and VA, citing those as critical examples of what is possible through effective partnerships.

"We would also note that VA and Department of Defense own significant vacant land and unutilized buildings, and VA has nearly $50 million in unspent funds intended to provide housing for veterans but which cannot be spent due to changes in the housing landscape. We believe these assets are the cornerstones of an aggressive program for thousands of new units of permanent supportive housing for veterans who, due to health and economic hardships, deserve this nation's help in their greatest hour of need."

Record spending levels for successful community-based homeless assistance programs in partnership with the VA, HUD and Department of Labor in Fiscal Year 2009, and the president's first federal budget plan for FY 2010, signal a new era in the campaign to end and prevent homelessness for our nation's veterans.

Congress, the Obama administration, and our federal partners are on course to do what most Americans thought impossible just a decade ago. NCHV has helped change the history of this great nation, but the credit belongs to the sacrifices and triumphs of the military veterans we all serve.

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