The Department of Veterans Affairs appears to be backtracking on its divisive plan to reallocate almost a half-billion dollars from a successful program to reduce homelessness among former military personnel, bowing to pressure from lawmakers and advocacy groups who criticized the effort as cruel and counterproductive.
As Politico reports, Shulkin and the VA are "essentially ending a special $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans".
The announcement also follows an emotional "emergency" phone call that VA leaders had December 1 with Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Neal Rackleff and 150 veterans advocates.
Since 2008, about 138,000 homeless veterans found permanent housing because of this program, known as HUD-VASH, according to government data.
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"Over the next six months, I will solicit input from our local VA leaders and external stakeholders on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most", he added.
Through the program, HUD provides housing vouchers to homeless veterans and the VA helps them manage their apartments and resolve issues with landlords.
Estimates are that there are still 40,000 homeless veterans on the streets today. Since 2010, the program helped shrink the rate of veteran homelessness by 45 percent.
On Dec. 1, Shulkin's office informed veterans' advocates that the VA would discontinue HUD-VASH and allocate its funds to local VA hospitals that would use the money however they saw fit.
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The plan would immediately divert $265 million from HUD-VASH and then reallocate the remaining $195 million in 2018. But cutting this program moves us backward. The group complained that shifting resources, as detailed in an internal VA memo distributed this fall, "would drastically undercut what was a real success story", said Elisha Harig-Blaine, a leader with the nonprofit National League of Cities who was on the call. "You're putting at risk the lives of men and women who've served this country".
The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on veterans affairs warned Shulkin against the decision.
Democrat Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, a member of the subcommittee, blasted the decision as the Trump administration's "new low".
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