Tester Leads Bipartisan Effort to Expand VA Services for Homeless Veterans

Ranking Member pushes for additional testing and resources to assist homeless veterans during pandemic

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester is backing bipartisan legislation to strengthen Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services for homeless veterans, and spearheading an effort to expand testing capabilities for this vulnerable population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has affected tens of thousands of homeless veterans as shelters have closed and funding for vital services have become strained. To assist these veterans during the pandemic, the Homeless Veterans Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 would allow VA to use existing funds for a wider range of services, authorize the Department to collaborate with outside organizations to facilitate encampments on its properties, and ensure veterans and community providers participating in VA homeless programs have access to telehealth services.

“We need to do all that we can to slow the spread of the coronavirus in our communities—especially amongst our homeless veterans who are at higher risk of infection,” said Ranking Member Tester. “The bipartisan Homeless Veterans Coronavirus Response Act will bring critical relief to this vulnerable population, by expanding VA authorities to provide food, transportation, and technology assistance to veterans in need. And it’ll streamline housing requirements to swiftly get veterans into safe housing deserving of their service. I’ll keep pushing this bill until it crosses the finish line in Congress, to provide those who honorably served our country with the resources they’ve earned.”

Provisions under the Homeless Veterans Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 would authorize the following:

  • Allow VA to use funds appropriated for the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program and the Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) program to be used to provide homeless veterans, including those in the HUD-VASH program, with food, clothing, blankets, hygiene items, transportation to appointments, and communications equipment.
  • Allow VA to collaborate with organizations to manage VA land that homeless veterans might be using as temporary shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Set the maximum GPD rate at three times the State home rate during the COVID-19 crisis. The new maximum GPD rate under this bill will be about $150 per veteran per night.
  • Allow VA to fund additional GPD beds without going through the Notice of Funding Availability process. Additionally, this bill waives certain inspection requirements for the GPD and HCHV program to get homeless veterans into new housing as quickly as possible.
  • Allow VA to provide communications equipment to homeless veterans, VA case managers, and community-based service providers to facilitate homeless veterans’ participation in VA telehealth programs.

Doubling down on his effort to assist homeless veterans during the national health crisis, Tester also led his committee colleagues in a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie yesterday, encouraging the Department to implement a nationwide testing strategy that includes regular testing of all homeless veterans. The Senators urged VA to deploy comprehensive testing capabilities at homeless shelters across the country in order to care for at-risk veterans and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Tester and his colleagues wrote, “Homeless veterans are some of the most at-risk for COVID-19 complications, and live in conditions that make them much more likely to contract the virus…Unfortunately, comprehensive coronavirus testing across the United States has not been available until recent weeks, and even now there are still areas where testing criteria and a lack of equipment make it difficult to obtain a diagnostic test.”

They continued, “To stop the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that VA provide proactive outreach and testing to all homeless veterans across the country, and subsequently provide them isolated housing and treatment, including inpatient care if necessary.”

A copy of the bill can be found HERE.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

A one-pager on the bill can be found HERE.