Durbin and VA Secretary Discuss Homelessness Among Veterans in Illinois

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), General Eric Shinseki, to discuss how to meet the needs of the estimated 1,500 veterans that go homeless every night in Illinois.  Secretary Shinseki is scheduled to testify tomorrow at a joint hearing of two Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on his plan to reduce the number of homeless veterans in the United States by half over the next two years and completely by 2014.

“Veterans represent ten percent of all homeless individuals in Illinois,” said Durbin.  “But with an estimated 45 percent of homeless veterans’ nationwide suffering from mental illness, the solution is not just about finding more beds.  Under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership, the VA is currently working with state and local organizations to expand preventive programs, increase supportive services for low-income Veterans and their families, establish a national referral center to link veterans to local service providers and maintain access to education, jobs, health care and housing.  I support this comprehensive approach to end veteran homelessness rather than just manage it."

Tomorrow’s hearing will review the VA's 2011 budget request for $4.2 billion in funding to address veteran homelessness through programs that will promote veteran employment through increased educational opportunities and support for veteran-owned businesses, establish additional supportive housing, and support aggressive diagnosis and treatment of the unseen wounds of war that can lead to homelessness.  The VA estimates that 107,000 veterans nationwide go homeless every night.  Secretary Shinseki’s goal is to reduce that number to 59,000 by June 2012 and to end veteran homelessness by 2014.  According to a 2008 VA report, 1,500 Illinois veterans go homeless every night, with only 141 veteran-specific beds available.

Durbin and Shinseki also discussed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 that was signed into law earlier this month.  The legislation takes several steps to help Illinois homeless veterans including:
  • Relaxing eligibility requirements for the VA’s Grant and Per Diem Program so more community organizations will be able to take part;
  • Requiring the VA to make referrals to non-VA counseling services for former members of the Armed Forces who are not otherwise eligible for readjustment counseling;
  • Authorizing a demonstration project to expand care for veterans in rural areas through a VA partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Providing the VA with the flexibility to contract with community mental health centers and other qualified entities in areas that are not adequately served by VA facilities