Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 4248) to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make grants to expand or modify existing comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans, and for other purposes, as amended.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I rise in strong support of H.R. 4248, as amended, the Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2004.
I point out to my colleagues that this legislation builds on the historic law signed by President Bush, the Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2001. I also want to point out to my colleagues and remind them that as we wrote those provisions and held several hearings to ascertain the need, the best practices, the policies that are more likely to work to try to mitigate the problem of homelessness, all of us, on both sides of the aisle, were utterly struck by the large number of veterans who were
indeed homeless. The number that seemed to be most accurate at the time was something on the order of 275,000 homeless veterans on any given night.
Many of these men, some are women, but most are men, had post-traumatic stress disorder or some problem with alcohol or drugs or both or all three. We decided working with the VA, working with the NGOs, with the VSOs, Veterans Service Organizations, and others, to devise legislation that would comprehensively try to mitigate and hopefully end this terrible problem of homelessness among our veterans.
The good news is that the number, and it is still unconscionably high, has dropped precipitously over the last several years since enactment of the law. Secretary of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Tony Principi, testified at the beginning of this year that he believes that the number has dropped to about 200,000. Still too high, but far less than the 275,000, again, on the streets on any given night.
The legislation we have before us is a bipartisan piece of legislation, and I want to thank my good friend, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Evans), who has played a key role in working with us on this. I also want to thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Rodriguez), who has also played a very important role, and the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Simmons), the chairman of our Subcommittee on Health, and all of the Members who have tried to contribute to make this an
important piece of legislation.
Let me point out to my colleagues specifically on the legislation that the VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem program is authorized to provide competitive grants to community-based, including faith-based, organizations that offer transitional housing or service centers for homeless veterans. This program has proven to be the most economical, flexible, and innovative method to provide time-limited or transitional housing with supportive services for homeless veterans in all 50 States and the District
of Columbia. Over 6,000 transitional housing beds are now available to veterans through the grant and per diem program.
In 2003, 66 percent of the veterans discharged from these programs were discharged to either independent housing or residential program housing, and 43 percent of all treatment episodes were documented as successful. This successful rate is the highest combined level of success ever achieved and ever recorded and remarkable, given the serious psychiatric disorders or substance abuse problems that often challenge recovery for homelessness.
The current authority for the grant and per diem program expires on September 30, 2005. In testimony before the Subcommittee on Health earlier this year, however, the administration stated that the total amount of grants made under this program was expected to exceed the current $75 million authorization in fiscal year 2005. To meet this growing demand for services for homeless veterans, the President's budget proposal requested an increase in the authorized level from $75 million to $100 million
for the 4 years. Section 2 of H.R. 4248, as amended, would increase the authorization to $99 million for 2005. It will be up to the next Congress to extend the authorization beyond its September 30 expiration date.
Mr. Speaker, in 2003, the VA reported that more than 31,000 males and 27,000 female veterans responded to relevant screenings indicating unwanted sexual experiences that occurred during their military service time. Under current law, the authority to provide sexual trauma counseling for eligible veterans expires on December 31 of this year. H.R. 4248, as amended, would recognize the continuing need for these programs within the VA by permanently authorizing the counseling and treatment authority.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all the Members again who have worked on this.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.