Trust Fund Vets

In a Nov. 15 post, we quoted a number that is being widely reported — and accepted — as the tally of homeless veterans in this country: 194,254

Not 194,255. Not 194,253, but 194,254, which made us ask: Where did they get that number?

And thus opened the Pandora’s Box of the VA.

Though we could sense the VA spokesperson man cringing on the other end of the line, he explained the number comes from nightly head counts performed at thousands of shelters. If a homeless person says he or she’s a veteran, then he or she is counted as a veteran. Reliable? Maybe not, but we were told the VA has teams that spot-check these counts. We weren’t convinced and figured, given the number of programs for the homeless (that’s another topic) and the bucks poured into them, the VA would be working with some solid data.

It appears our thinking is flawed.

It gets more interesting when we start talking dollars. In FY 2007, $266 million was spent on homeless-specific programs, while $1.5 BILLION was spent on homeless veterans’ health care.* Yeah, that’s less than $20 a vet, if the 194,254 is accurate, but that’s a chunk of change to service a group — and maybe placate well-placed do-gooders at the same time. We’d hate to speculate.

So who is a veteran? Though the shelters report anyone who answers in the affirmative, the VA only gives homeless benefits to veterans who served honorably, according to the nice spokesperson man. But get that doe-eyed first-termer with an honorable discharge out of your mind. To be considered a veteran one only needs NOT to have a dishonorable discharge. Bad conduct discharge and less than a year’s service? You may still qualify in some cases.

Call us cold, but we suggested maybe the VA should be a little more selective in doling out the bennies.

Get this. The nice spokesperson man told us not to worry and assured us there was plenty of money. When we suggested probable funding cuts, he boasted the VA’s budget was heading upward.

We don’t think he understood our point. Worse, it seems the VA might not get it either.

*The figure quoted for all veterans’ healthcare in FY 2007: $36 billion.

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