[Hpn] WASHINGTON, DC - Groups, VA join to eliminate veterans' homelessness - Star Telegram - November 12, 2003

HC Covington HC Covington" <hcc@icanamerica.org
Wed, 12 Nov 2003 23:23:18 -0500

Groups, VA join to eliminate veterans' homelessness

By AP SUZANNE GAMBOA - Star Telegram - November 12, 2003

WASHINGTON - A day after the nation saluted veterans in parades
and speeches, advocates hoped to turn the country's attention to
America's estimated 250,000 or more homeless veterans.

In a gathering Wednesday on Capitol Hill organized by U.S. Vets,
which assists homeless veterans, advocates said the issue needs
a higher priority on the national radar.

"This is a call to arms to encourage everyone, every citizen,
corporation to stand behind getting this job done," said Tim
Cantwell, president of U.S. Vets, which operates transitional
housing, job training and other programs for homeless

The group hoped to increase awareness of the problem and draw
more community organizations and businesses into the effort to

The organization has 100 transitional housing beds for
homeless veterans in Houston and is opening a new location that
will provide 277 more.

Although nearly half of homeless veterans in 2002 served in the
Vietnam War, the proportion of homeless veterans who served
during the Persian Gulf War is up from 3.9 percent in 1998 to
6.2 percent in 2002, according to the VA.

Pete Dougherty, coordinator of VA's homeless programs, said in a
given year the VA sees about 100,000 homeless veterans in the
agency's health care system.

Vietnam War veterans faced a far different society when they
returned from war, said VA Secretary Anthony Principi. The
country was divided over the war and some veterans were not
welcomed home.

In some cases, the lack of support helped feed substance
abuse and other problems that led to homelessness, he said.

Although the nation is far more supportive of veterans today,
Principi said "we should remain on guard."

The VA this year increased transitional housing for veterans by
providing grants to more nonprofit and faith-based groups in
more states.

Three years ago, the VA supported 43 programs in 24 states that
provided about 1,250 transitional housing spots.

This year, it provides grants to every state and the District of
Columbia for 8,200 transitional beds, Dougherty said.

Additionally VA is expediting disability benefit claims for
homeless veterans, he said.

The VA has been criticized by some groups and lawmakers for a
plan to shut down some hospitals that include housing for
veterans and mental health and long-term care beds.

But Principi said the overhaul will not eliminate beds for the
homeless, only relocate them.

"When we spend scarce medical resources to maintain
excess infrastructure, that's dollars we don't have to
treat the mentally ill or substance abuse," Principi
said. "We are not going to sacrifice our program for
the homeless."

On the Net: U.S. Vets: http://www.usvetsinc.org
Veterans Affairs: http://www.va.gov

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