Billions for Homelessus Veteranus

VA secretary Eric Shinseki recently announced his plan to end homelessness among veterans.

Speaking at the VA National Summit Ending Homelessness Among Veterans, the former Army chief of staff and Vietnam veteran stated, “No one who has served this nation as veterans should ever have to be living on the streets.” In what he envisions as a five-year plan, Shinseki explained the VA would work with the U.S. departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services plus the Small Business Administration. All would collaborate with community organizations and first responders to tackle the homeless epidemic.

Noble, but can the VA grasp the needs of the general veteran population? It already has proved deficient in tracking the illusive homelessus veteranus, and in determining if the species should be a priority.

It seems from the data available, veteran homelessness should not be a VA priority. As we recounted in Fruit of the Poisoned Tree, the VA estimates homeless veterans at 131,000, down from the 199,000 it reported in 2005. The VA gets it numbers from the frontline shelters: if a guy says he’s a vet at the shelter’s evening bed count, then he is reported as a veteran. VA officials have told us they verify these numbers, but we’re not so sure.

If we look at the 131,000 as a part of the 24 million veteran population in this country we see it amounts to just one half of one percent of the whole. Shinseki has pledged more than $3 billion (of a requested 2010 budget of $113 billion) to help one-half of one percent. Is this a Faustian Pact? Or is this the VA’s highway to hell?

Given the partnering organizations (and did we mention the millions going to grant programs to help the frontline community organizations), this seems like a scheme to launder tax payer dollars into the hands of the professional do-gooder, while doing nothing to significantly benefit the veterans.

“We must offer education and jobs, treat depression and fight substance abuse, prevent suicides and provide safe housing,” he told the gathering. (A chicken in every pot!)

We wonder what percent of veterans out there have been turned away from vocational rehabilitation programs because they had an advanced degree or “appeared” to have the skills necessary for an entry-level position. (The VA doesn’t have to help a vet find a great job. Depending on the counselor, pushing a vet into an entry-level position may check the block, though now the buzz phrase seems to be “appropriate employment.”)

Shinseki also wants to help veterans through enhanced business opportunities, and touts government contract set asides for disabled veterans. Those deals are unlikely unless a veteran packs up his or her disability certificate and pimps himself out to some seedy larger entity. The alternative may be kissing that Shinseki-endorsed government handout good-bye.

And those 40,000 vets he mentioned who leave prison each year? They are going to get help too. (Thank God! That’s in addition to the VA’s former Incarcerated Veterans program. The VA recently changed the that catchy title to “Health Care for Reentry Veterans.” It appears the VA may be branding its homeless cache of programs. You can never do too much for our vets behind bars.) My cousin is an Army veteran. He later robbed too many banks and murdered two people. He is in prison. Though he is not getting out any time soon, what benefits should your tax dollars afford him? Gee, we’d hate to see anything bad like homelessness happen to him upon release.

But it’s $3 billion to the spectral homeless vets. Take a look at how the VA plans to allocate its 2010 budget.

Our guess is the remaining 99.5 percent should gear up for its Bonus March in Anacostia.

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