Ernie Maas could not help choking up as he took his first look around his new home Wednesday afternoon, a simple one-bedroom, federally subsidized apartment on North Glebe Road in Arlington County.
Maas, 61, who served in the Navy for seven years during and after the Vietnam War, has been homeless for about two years, living much of that time under a bridge on Four Mile Run. ...
Maas’s new home represents a happy turn, but it is also one that illustrates some of the challenges facing advocates as they try to find housing for homeless veterans, whose numbers are estimated at more than 60,000. It took Arlington social workers helping Maas nearly a year to secure a federal housing voucher under a program for veterans, a waiting time advocates say is not unusual, particularly in cases where identification has been lost. ...
The social workers recognized that Maas would be an ideal candidate to get housing through HUD-VASH, a program run by the VA and Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides permanent supportive housing to homeless veterans, including those with serious mental illness, substance-abuse problems or other issues.
Under the Obama administration, more than 37,000 veterans have been placed in permanent supportive housing, assigned to case managers and provided with access to VA health care. Veterans pay 30 percent of their income to rent, and HUD’s Section 8 voucher covers the remainder. [Emphasis added]
Mr. Maas does have a bad back, which cost him his last job, but his real problem is that he lost his identification after several moves. Without that, getting benefits anywhere is impossible. Fortunately, social workers took on the task to fill in that missing link, but it took almost a year to move Mr. Maas from under the bridge into an apartment. And he's an easier case than many: he doesn't have any mental illness or substance abuse problems. Still, somebody reached out and helped.
It becomes more problematic when serious disabilities are present, and part of the problem is that the Veteran's Administration programs still aren't reaching those who need them, much of the time because returning veterans (or veterans who returned years ago) are unaware of their existence. And the VA system still is filled with mysterious vagaries which make for different results, depending on region or even office. And, thanks to two unnecessary wars, there is a crushing need for those benefits which is overwhelming the VA, leading to extensive delays.
Disabled veterans face difficult challenges when applying for benefits. The application backlog can take more than a year and bureaucratic confusion often results in mysterious benefit denials.
Despite their enormous sacrifices, disabled veterans who come home after serving abroad often face yet another daunting and demoralizing battle: applying for disability benefits.
Due to the enormous backlog of applications, many veterans must endure a long wait without government assistance. Inconsistencies between government offices also leave some veterans in the lurch by suspiciously denying benefits. All of this adds up to a frustrating and difficult experience for many returning soldiers.
And it's not just housing and medical benefits. It's also educational benefits and home purchase benefits. The word isn't getting out to those who served, and apparently isn't getting out to the people at the VA who are supposed to make certain those benefits are provided.
We as a society made promises to these men and women, and we're not keeping those promises. That is just wrong and it needs to be rectified. If it takes an overhaul of the VA and the people running it, make the overhaul. If it takes additional funding, then put the money into the budget, deficit be damned.
These men and women did what we asked, now we need to do our job.
Labels: Veterans' Administration