Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki warned Wednesday that tackling the problem of homelessness among veterans, like so many other problems vets face, is likely to get more difficult before it is solved.
Speaking before the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the retired Army chief of staff did not shrink from his promise to eliminate veterans’ homelessness in 2015; he just warned it’s going to get tougher.
“The climb will get steeper the closer we get to the summit,” Shinseki said. “All the easy cases will have been housed. In the end, we will have the toughest, most difficult cases to solve: some prior failures, some behavioral problems, even some serious mental health issues.
“I don’t think we signed up for just the easy cases,” he said. “Until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation’s streets, our work remains unfinished.”
VA officials trying to tackle the backlog of benefits claims also have warned that the average time to process claims will get longer before the backlog disappears.
The government announced Wednesday that the Housing and Urban Development Department has approved $60 million in assistance that will go to finding permanent housing for veterans, enough to help about 9,000 veterans.
“We have ... a common sense approach to get homeless veterans housed first, then meet their clinical and other needs,” Shinseki said.
The number of homeless veterans is believed to have dropped 17 percent since 2009, he said. That still leaves about 60,000.
“We have all been running hard for four years now and we have made a difference,” Shinseki said. “We know we can do this, and in a couple of years we are all going to be able to say we did something magnificent and worthwhile.”
Shinseki made it clear there is more to do. “We will continue to push for early detection of housing instability to help provide veterans with prevention assistance,” he said. “We will continue to work with federal partners and community organizations to ensure that veterans who do not qualify for VA benefits can receive access to non-VA care and benefits to end or prevent homelessness.”