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SGT. SHAFT: Marine seeks help for fellow homeless veterans

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dear Sgt Shaft:

I am currently in the Homeless Domiciliary program at the Coatesville VA Medical Center (CVAMC) in Pennsylvania after getting treatment for PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and other conditions related to my service in Iraq.

I am writing you for assistance to help fellow homeless veterans. I have experienced some resistance bringing this issue up to the leadership here at CVAMC. I believe that the version of the "Housing First" model implemented here at CVAMC is very different than the effective national model. This will, in turn, result in frustrated and disillusioned veterans back on the streets.

Any assistance with bringing this issue to higher leadership/representatives would be greatly appreciated.

Semper Fi,
Jim E.,
Former Sergeant/USMC

Dear Jim:

The following is a missive that I received from Lisa M. Thomas, Ph.D., FACHE [Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives] at Coatesville:

"I am responding on behalf of Dr. [Robert A.] Petzel, [who is Under Secretary for Health in the VA]. Thank you for your inquiry regarding the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center's (VAMC) Housing First program. The goal of this program is to end Veteran homelessness by aligning the Coatesville VAMC's homeless domiciliary units with the principles of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national Housing First initiative.

"As such, Coatesville VAMC's program provides rapid re-housing to Veterans in homeless domiciliary units by emphasizing a provision for rapid permanent housing while continuing clinical interventions on an individual basis. This program parallels the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers program. Coatesville VAMC is utilizing its transitional work experience program to provide Veterans with the financial and psychosocial resources to establish permanent housing provided in this effort.

"Current residents of the on-campus domiciliary program who meet clinical based criteria are being placed into permanent residential settings in the community. This enables participants to live an independent lifestyle while maintaining full access to VA services. Transportation needs of Veterans placed in the community are included in the placement process and a number of resources utilized to ensure access to VA services is maintained. This new approach to breaking the cycle of long-term homelessness reflects evidenced based research that has demonstrated provision of permanent housing is a major factor in achieving real change in the status of homeless Veterans.

"Some Veterans are not ready for a change of this nature due to their clinical health care requirements. Provisions are in place to accommodate those with serious mental health issues and/or who otherwise require a more structured residential setting. There are a small number of Veterans who do not have a clinical based need to remain in the more structured residential setting but who prefer for other reasons to do so. The Coatesville VAMC is actively engaging Veterans who do not meet the clinical guidelines to remain in the on-campus domiciliary to better understand and resolve such situations on an individual basis.

"Ultimately, the continuum of care will lead to community placement for all Veterans who do not have clinical need to remain in the domiciliary. This is a critical step for all Veterans clinically able to do so and part of the VA's effort to break the revolving door of homelessness.

"I understand that Coatesville VAMC mental health leadership recently met with the Veteran who contacted you and other homeless domiciliary residents to discuss the Housing First program, and that a future meeting is scheduled for January.

"Staff in the Coatesville VAMC homeless program reviewed and discussed the employment rates of Chester and surrounding counties and aggregated apartment rental cost data prior to implementing the rapid re-housing program. Communication with community representatives and impacted Veterans also took place on several occasions prior to implementation.

"Your continued support of our mission is deeply appreciated. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance."

Shaft notes

• On Jan. 21, hundreds of homeless and at-risk veterans will attend the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center's (DCVAMC) Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down. This Stand Down brings together more than 70 federal, state and community agencies to provide a day of service and support for veterans in need.

Veterans will receive medical mental health care, employment support, housing services, legal counseling, hot meals, warm clothing, comfort kits, haircuts, Google voice cards and referrals for clothing at local thrift stores.

The Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the VA Medical Center, 50 Irving St. NW, Washington, D.C.

There will be medical screenings for cholesterol, Hepatitis C and HIV. Flu and pneumonia shots will be offered as well as eye and dental exams. Consultative services offered include podiatry, infectious diseases and women's health. Psycho-social referrals for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse will also be available.

Employment advisers representing the D.C., Maryland and Virginia Department of Labor Employment Offices, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless will be on hand to offer guidance. Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) will assist with VA benefits claims.

In 2009, VA set a goal of ending homelessness among Veterans by 2015. Here in our nation's capital, DCVAMC is doing its part through partnerships with city, state and federal agencies, a wide-array of programs and services, and through this annual Stand Down.

For more information, contact the Office of Public Affairs at 202/745-4037 or visit http://www.washingtondc.va.gov/.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs has entered agreements to provide more than 3,000 units of permanent and transitional housing for veterans at 25 VA medical center campuses nationwide.

Additionally, agreements are pending on an additional 1,000 units, which we anticipate completing in the coming weeks. Proposed opportunities include housing for homeless veterans, senior veterans, disabled veterans, other at-risk veteran populations and their families.

"As we approach Veterans Day, it is important that we never forget the sacrifices made by our Veterans to ensure the freedom and independence all Americans cherish," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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