The federal government is the largest provider of services to veterans. It also provides substantial health care, housing, training and employment resources and policy governance that impact the delivery of services and related programs for veterans. The Veterans Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, jointly manage the VASH program (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) with local housing agencies. VASH provides both a rent assistance voucher and case management services to low income veterans. The VA provides an array of grants and service contracts to local community providers to assist veterans with mental health needs. These programs are designed to complement and enhance state and local assistance to veterans.
CAVSA works to maximize the federal resources coming to California to improve veterans’ mental health services and to facilitate greater collaboration between and among federal, state, local and community based agencies.
2019 Federal Legislative Priorities
Protect Federal Investments in New Veteran Housing
Private Activity Bonds:
In 2018, the Internal Revenue Service unilaterally reinterpreted the statute governing the use of Private Activity Bonds (PABs). As a result, IRS informed stakeholders that PABs could no longer be used for the development of veteran-only housing developments because veteran-only projects would fail to pass the law’s “general public use” requirements.
Without PABs, at least three new housing developments in California were put on hold due to lack of financing.
CAVSA initiated a campaign to get the IRS to rethink its new policy. Supported by leaders in the California Congressional delegation and other supporters of homeless veterans, the IRS heard a chorus of voices urging them to allow PABs for veteran-only projects. Critics of the new IRS policy cited an existing law that allows veteran-only projects to qualify for PABs’ sister program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).
On April 3rd, 2019, after a flurry of legislative activity at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2019-17 to clarify that projects that qualify for LIHTC also qualify for PABs. In short, CAVSA advocacy forced the IRS to do a 180-degree reversal in less than 12 months.
Update VA’s Housing Programs
Supportive Services for HUD-VASH:
Jointly run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA, the HUD-VASH Program serves the most vulnerable homeless veterans. The program pairs a homeless veteran with a Housing Choice Voucher and provides them with supportive services to ensure that they can access VA services and improve on workforce skills.
However, unlike the effective Grant Per Diem and Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs that contract out supportive services staffing to community partners, HUD-VASH support services are staffed directly by the VA. As a result caseworkers, social workers and other supportive service providers must often travel long hours from the Medical Center where they are based just to reach their clients. Too often these staff don’t show up. Whether because Medical Center leadership is using these staff to serve other individuals at the hospital, or because the travel time is not sufficient to reach rural areas, the fact is that too many veterans do not receive the care they have earned.
CAVSA is working with VA and Congressional leaders to encourage Medical Center Directors to contract with community-based partners to improve the efficiency of the HUD-VASH program. By leveraging the “in-the-field” resources of community partners like CAVSA members, the VA can ensure that qualified individuals are working with HUD-VASH participants regardless of where they are located.
Reimbursement Rates for Grant and Per Diem:
The Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program is the backbone of the VA’s homeless housing portfolio. It serves a wide variety of clients and can be flexibly administered to best serve the veteran.
In 2017, the GPD regulations were substantially revised to improve service delivery for the veteran. The revisions have been effective, and the program outcomes have improved.
However, the revisions added a considerable amount of new administrative work that, thus far, has been undertaken without compensation. CAVSA is working to update the GPD reimbursement rates to ensure that service providers can administer this core VA program without incurring a substantial economic burden.
Ensure the VA has an ample budget to support the mental health needs of homeless veterans
Secure VA Mental Health Funding:
In 2017, then-Secretary David Shulkin proposed converting VA Mental Health and VASH Supportive Services mandatory line items to discretionary. This change would have allowed a Medical Center director to divert funding for these purposes to other priority areas.
CAVSA forcefully advocated to retaining “special purpose” funding for mental health and VASH supportive services. We worked with the authorizing and appropriations committees in Congress to educate them about the impact of this VA proposal and then convinced them to join us in our advocacy. Eventually, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Veterans Affairs Committees in the House and Senate, as well as the Chairman and Ranking Members of the Military Construction/VA Appropriations Subcommittees wrote letters to the Secretary urging him to rescind the guidance. Additionally, the House and Senate Appropriators included report language in the FY 2018 and 2019 Military Construction/VA bill directing the VA do withdraw its proposal and seek authorization from Congress should they wish to proceed.
After six tumultuous months, the VA did withdraw its proposal and consented to preserve the funding as allocated by Congress. CAVSA remains watchful for a repeat of this potentially devastating policy, but for the time being, is confident that VA’s mental health resources will remain dedicated to serving the mental health of Veterans.