Lisa Chin reporting from Washington:
The issue of homeless veterans has been with us a long time, and while the numbers seem to be getting better, the challenges that face them are not.
Currently there are approximately 131,000 homeless veterans in the United States, that’s down from about 200,000 reported just a few years ago, and the government continues to spend money on the problem. What’s clear from today’s Senate Banking Committee hearing is that money is not enough. Coordination and conveniently located services may go a longer way to making those programs more effective in helping homeless veterans and preventing a generation of returning veterans from entering an endless cycle of hopelessness.
Assistant Secretary of Housing Mercedes Marquez says that since February, HUD has funded over 136 programs that specifically target programs, and a partner program between HUD and the VA started in FY08, called the HUD-VASH [Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program] is funded at $75 million annually and serves over 20,000 homeless vets, including many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of those veterans served by the HUD-VASH program, Lila Guy, testified today, telling senators, “When I got out I had nothing because it was such an abrupt discharge. I didn’t have anything. Nowhere to go. I drove home. All I had was my car and my kids.” Lila was able to stay with her parents for a short while, but after delivering her fourth child, her father told her there was no room in his small 2 bedroom house for all of them. Lila contacted her congressman for help, and was directed to the program. However, transitioning to civilian life is not easy. Says Lila: “The transition is hard and they teach you to go and train and to fight and to do all of those things, but they don’t teach you how to live a normal life when you come back.  You know, they don’t teach you how to take care of your kids or pay all of your bills or whatever.”
Now a student who regularly attends classes and group therapy for Iraqi veterans with PTSD, Lila says that many veterans are lost and do not know how to get the assistance that is out there for them, and depicted a very real and sad scenario facing many veterans who must travel to a number of locations in an attempt to rebuild their civilian lives. Often, the VA Health Center, school, the unemployment office, Social Security, and various housing programs are far away from each other and some veterans are without cars or the resources to travel to these place and get their transition done. According to Lila that’s when things can go wrong and veterans give up:
“After a while they’re just going to get frustrated. …still trying to find a job, still trying to find somewhere to live, still dealing with their mental issues, and they get tired. And guess what? When they get tired, they say, you know what, I’m just going to have a drink. I’m just going to sit down in my basement, and, or somebody’s basement, or wherever, and drink myself to death or whatever it is that they, you know, …it’s a hard thing being a veteran because those issues never go away. A lot of them still have that battle mind and they don’t know how to turn it off.”
The VA toll free number for assistance is 1-800-827-1000