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VA seeks to lower barriers to care for homeless vets


By Virgil Dickson
Posted: May 14, 2014 - 3:00 pm ET
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The Veterans Affairs Department is seeking to amend a current federal regulation (PDF) that requires homeless veterans be diagnosed with a serious mental illness to qualify for the Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Program.

The program pays community-based organizations to provide housing, outreach, case management and rehabilitative services for former servicemen and women. Approximately 220 not-for-profit entities had participated in the program as of November 2013.

The policy change was first outlined in the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. The specific concern was that the policy requires the VA to conduct a clinical assessment to verify that a homeless veteran has a serious mental illness before it can provide care and services through the HCHV program. The requirement was put in place to ensure that the VA only provided services to veterans who were both homeless and who had a serious mental illness.

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“However, as a practical matter, this requirement sometimes resulted in veterans refusing treatment or assessment, and consequently not receiving care or services to address their homelessness,” the proposed rule states.

Data show that, over the past several years, more than 85% of homeless veterans identified by HCHV staff have serious mental illness. The changes proposed are intended to ensure that the VA can provide services to the remaining 15% of veterans who are homeless, but who do not have a serious mental illness.

Homelessness amongst veterans has decreased dramatically in recent years—from 76,000 individuals in 2010 to around 58,000 in 2013, according to The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Comments on the proposed rule will be due by July 15.

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson


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