For Immediate Release, October 11, 2001
Contact: Marie Wyffels
House Veterans' Affairs Committee Approves Bill to Expand Services for Veterans with Mental Illness
On October 10, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee approved a bill that would expand and enhance services in the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans with severe mental illness. HR 2716, the "Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2001", sponsored by House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), includes provisions that would increase services and enhance coordination in an effort to end chronic homelessness within 10 years. NAMI strongly supported provisions in HR 2716 that were included in the Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act that was introduced by Representative Lane Evans (D-IL), ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Severe mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse problems contribute significantly to homelessness among veterans. Studies have shown that nearly one-third (approximately 250,000) of homeless individuals have served in our country's armed services. Moreover, approximately 43% of homeless veterans have a diagnosis of severe and persistent mental illness, and 69% have a substance abuse disorder. NAMI strongly supported provisions in this legislation that would mandate evaluation and reporting of mental illness programs in the VA and that veterans receiving care and treatment for severe mental illness be designated as "complex care" within the Veterans Equitable Resource Allocation system.
Specifically HR 2716
- Requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to have mental health capability wherever it delivers primary care. The VA has expanded the use of Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) as primary care clinics. Many of the CBOCs were instituted in areas where VA health services were not easily accessible allowing many more veterans access to needed health care. However, the VA's Committee on Severe Mental Illness reports that out of the 350 CBOCs operated, only 40% of these facilities offer treatment services for veterans with severe mental illness. NAMI has been concerned that meaningful community-based capacity is not being developed to treat chronically mentally ill veterans in their communities.
- Establishes as a national goal the elimination of chronic homelessness among veterans within ten years. Included in this bill is a "Sense of the Congress" that effective federal homeless programs should be identified and replicated, and stressed the importance of interagency collaboration on the goal of eradicating homelessness particularly between VA and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- Authorizes 2,000 additional HUD Section 8 low-income rental housing vouchers over four years for homeless veterans in need of permanent housing who are enrolled in VA health care, with priority given to veterans under care for mental illness or substance use disorders.
- Authorizes $10 million over two years for ten new Domiciliary for Homeless Veterans programs and $285 million over four years for the Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program.
- Authorizes $250 million over five years to strengthen the Department of Labor's (DoL) Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) to expedite the reintegration of homeless veterans into the labor force.
- Creates a VA - Department of Labor demonstration program to provide information, including referral and counseling services, to incarcerated veterans and veterans in long-term institutional confinement to assist in their re-integration into their communities. This demo will provide referral and counseling in job training, housing, health care and benefits to help ensure that veteran's transitioning from institutions do not end up homeless.
- Authorize homeless veterans receiving care through vocational rehabilitation programs to participate in the VA's work therapy program.
- Earmarks $10 million over three years for medical care for homeless veterans with special needs, including older veterans, women, substance abusers and those with PTSD.
- Requires VA to provide technical assistance grants to nonprofit community-based groups to assist other groups in applying for federal grants to address homelessness among veterans. These grants would be targeted to expanding programs that provide outreach, rehabilitative services, vocational counseling and training, and transitional housing assistance.
In addition, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee also approved HR 2792, the Disabled Veterans Service Dog and Health Care Improvement Act of 2001 by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. HR 2792, introduced by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) included measures to ensure that the VA maintains capacity for designated special populations, including veterans with mental illness.
Both bills HR 2716 and HR 2792 were approved by voice vote and are expected to be taken up by the full House next week. (The Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act has also been introduced in the Senate (S 739) by Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN)). NAMI members are encouraged to contact their Representatives in the House in support of both these bills. NAMI greatly appreciates the work of Chairman Chris Smith and his colleagues on the Veterans' Affairs committee for their efforts on behalf of our nation's veterans with severe mental illness.