February 15, 2017

Udall, Tester Fight Veteran Homelessness in Indian Country

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, are calling on VA Secretary David Shulkin to prioritize helping Native American veterans obtain access to critical housing resources.

Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other group. However, they are also at greater risk of homelessness than their veteran peers.

In a letter to Secretary Shulkin, the Senators note that tribes have reached out to them with concerns regarding an initiative aimed at reducing homelessness among Native American veterans called Tribal HUD-VASH. The Senators raised concerns about the VA's lack of assistance in providing timely support services and case management.

"Tribal HUD-VASH grants are intended to provide rental assistance, case management, and clinical and supportive services for Native American veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness," the Senators wrote. "We are concerned the current level of support from VA is not allowing for the timely implementation of the program or achieving the goal of reducing Native American homelessness in tribal communities."

The Tribal HUD-VASH program provides substance abuse treatment, mental health care, job training, and other housing assistance. According to VA policy, participants should be provided with a case manager who serves as a direct link between VA support services and the Native American veteran recipients.

However, the VA's lack of focus on this program has led to poor service for Native veterans and the recent federal hiring freeze will likely compound the problem.

Through the Tribal HUD-VASH program, 26 grants were awarded to different Indian tribes.

The Senators requested that the VA provide information regarding how the grants are working at each of the 26 areas and any possible barriers to providing the resources to the tribes so they can carry out their housing plans.

Tester spearheaded legislation to make HUD-VASH funds available to Native Americans living on tribal lands. Tester later introduced bipartisan legislation to make the HUD-VASH program permanent.

In addition to cosponsoring the legislation led by Tester, Udall has fought as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to increase funding for veterans programs on tribal land, including Tribal HUD-VASH.

Tester and Udall's letter is available online HERE.