The Trump administration's Department of Veterans Affairs has backtracked on a plan to discontinue a program designed to help homeless veterans find and maintain housing. VA Secretary David Shulkin reversed his decision to defund the program amid backlash from veterans' advocates and Congress.
On Dec. 7, Shulkin announced that his department would not reallocate $460 million away from HUD-VASH, a collaborative program between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless program..." Shulkin said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. "...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."
Through the program, HUD provides housing vouchers to homeless veterans and the VA helps them manage their apartments and resolve issues with landlords. Since 2008, HUD-VASH helped 138,000 homeless veterans secure permanent housing. Since 2010, the program helped shrink the rate of veteran homelessness by about 45 percent. On Dec. 6, HUD disclosed that the rate of veteran homelessness increased by 2 percent in 2016, marking the first uptick in nearly a decade.
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. Shulkin made the decision before consulting with HUD or VA staff, Politico reports.
The plan would have immediately diverted $265 million from HUD-VASH and then reallocated the remaining $195 million in 2018.
"VA intends to realign funding from a number of programs, including our permanent supportive housing program [grants]," VA spokesperson Curt Cashour told the Military Times. "These programs are currently managed at VA central office in Washington, D.C., and this move gives control and management of resources to local VA facilities."
The move outraged veteran's advocates, who asserted that the program had been invaluable in helping vulnerable former service members, particularly those who suffered from mental illness.
"I don't understand why you are pulling the rug out," said Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities, Politico notes. "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. All 14 members of the subcommittee signed a letter warning the VA that defunding HUD-VASH "could have tremendous unintended consequences," according to The Washington Post.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, a member of the subcommittee, blasted the decision as the Trump administration's "new low."
On Dec. 6, Cashour indicated that Shulkin's office would not change its mind about defunding HUD-VASH.
"While some may think Washington bureaucrats are more qualified to make decisions about local VA issues than local VA leaders, we wholeheartedly disagree," Cashour said.
On Dec. 7 Shulkin reversed his decision, and HUD-VASH will continue at its current funding.