- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

After 10 days filled with constituent service and epicurean delights, 100 U.S. senators return to work in Washington this week. They are obviously well aware that many thousands of American sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines spent Thanksgiving week in overseas wartime service devoid of the holiday pleasures that made civilian family celebrations so enjoyable. With America at war during the holiday season, now is the time for these fortunate senators to increase the resources to alleviate the unacceptable conditions that afflict hundreds of thousands of veterans who find themselves homeless in this land of plenty. Let the senators contemplate the life of Ronald Smith, a 58-year-old homeless veteran whose situation was recently described by Margie Hyslop in The Washington Times. Mr. Smith served two tours in Vietnam, where he was shot three times in two separate incidents. With the horrors of Vietnam returning in nightly dreams, alcohol has been his coping mechanism. His wife of 25 years "couldn't understand what I was going through," Mr. Smith said, explaining why he lives in shelters today.
The Senate should make one of its first orders of business this week the adoption of legislation to aid homeless veterans, which passed the House last month by voice vote. Co-sponsored by House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, and ranking member Lane Evans, Illinois Democrat, the overwhelmingly bipartisan Stuart Collick-Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act would expand and consolidate important homeless services available to the most deserving downtrodden members of society.
The House legislation would increase access to drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services and dental programs for homeless veterans. It would significantly expand the Veterans Administration's highly successful domiciliary care programs, which provide residential rehabilitation and health maintenance for veterans who do not require hospitalization or nursing-home care, but are temporarily unable to live independently due to medical or psychiatric disabilities. It is a scandal that veterans seeking help are turned away for lack of space in such programs. The House bill would authorize 2,000 Section 8 housing vouchers for veterans undergoing treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. Funding would also be increased for critical homeless veterans reintegration programs, such as job training, counseling and placement services. The average cost to place a homeless veteran in employment under this program is a mere $1,250, making it arguably one of the most cost-effective government programs.
The House bill, which will add about $1 billion to homeless veterans' programs over the next five years (a relative pittance by Washington standards), declares as its national goal an "end [of] chronic homelessness among veterans within a decade of the enactment of this Act." Once the Senate passes a companion bill of its own, a conference committee can meet to reconcile the two versions, and America can increase its help for Ronald Smith and other worthy veterans who have served our country so well.


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