Legal issues are keeping homeless veterans on the street. This bill aims to help.

Abbie Bennett
October 16, 2019 - 12:29 pm
VA

Getty Images

Unresolved legal issues are one of the leading problems keeping homeless veterans on the street. A bill that passed out of a Congressional committee Wednesday and is set to receive a House vote. 

Of the top-10 issues homeless veterans face, more than half are related to unresolved legal issues, Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. said. California Democrat Rep. Jimmy Panetta's bill, the Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act, aims to help. 

The bill specifically directs VA to provide grants to groups that offer legal services to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of being homeless. 

"No veteran should be living on the streets," Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., said. "After their sacrifices, we must do all we can to make sure no veteran is homeless." 

But Cisneros and Panetta say there's a missing component to addressing veteran homelessness -- unresolved legal problems make up the majority of issues veterans say contribute to their homelessness

"We need to do whatever we can to get them back on their feet so they can get back to being an integral part of the community and this country," Cisneros said. 

Cisneros offered an amendment, which was added to the bill, to provide additional aid to women veterans experiencing housing instability and homelessness. 

While women are the fastest-growing group in the military and veteran communities, they also make up the fastest-growing group of homeless veterans and are more likely to be single parents. 

Women veteran homelessness has doubled since 2006. 

On Tuesday, the House advanced legislation to provide additional aid to homeless veterans with children

"Even one veteran without shelter is unacceptable," Takano said.

VA transparency, accountability

Also at Wednesday's hearing, the committee approved two pieces of legislation aimed at the Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA Reporting Transparency Act from Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., requires the department to create and maintain a website to make public and easily obtainable copies of Congressionally-mandated reports. 

VA "surprisingly" does not provide those reports publicly, Takano said, and often "only transmits them to a few Congressional committees." 

Roe said he didn't think posting older reports was "a good use of VA time" and proposed an amendment to require VA only post reports going forward. That amendment, along with another that gives VA 30 instead of three days to post the reports online, was accepted. 

The second bill, the Reding High Risk to Veterans and Veterans Services Act directs VA to submit a plan to Congress to address how VA departments still are listed as "high risk" for fraud, waste and mismanagement by the Government Accountability Office. 

"I want to emphasize that hardly any area on the high-risk list gets off the list without sustained Congressional oversight," said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich.

"VA is moving much too slowly in fixing these and other problems," Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., said. "Clearly, it's time for action and this bill does just that and requires additional accountability and transparency."

All of the bills approved by the committee on Wednesday are set for a House vote, after which they will head to the Senate where they need approval before going to the president's desk for a signature to become laws. 

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.