VA Struggles to Help Homeless Vets
Policy + Politics

VA Struggles to Help Homeless Vets

REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Obama has created a number of initiatives to end homelessness among veterans in the United States. And while many of those programs have helped get thousands of veterans off the streets, others have fallen short.

A national call center created in 2012 to serve as a hotline for homeless veterans has failed to consistently provide veterans with access to support services, according to a new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General.

Related: VA Scandal Sends Shinseki Packing

The auditor reviewed 2013 call records from the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans and found that out of nearly 80,000 calls, about 21,000 went to the answering machine, and 13,000 were never returned.

Eliminating homelessness among veterans has been a major initiative by the Obama administration. But a key program intended to help homeless vets is failing.

The IG blamed management and staffing issues on the VA’s inadequate support services for veterans. Many of the calls went straight to voice mail, rather than getting patched in with a counselor.

“In our opinion, the majority of these calls could have been answered by counselors, instead of the answering machine,” the report said. It added that of the records the IG reviewed, 85 percent “lacked documentation to prove the veterans had received needed support services.”

According to the report, the counselors working at the center “often did not log in or did not spend the entire day logged into the call center telephone system.”

The report comes at the end of a very bad year for the VA—which has been embroiled in controversy after a spate of reports revealed mistreatment of veterans—including hidden waitlists—at VA hospitals across the country.

The reports eventually resulted in the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki—who first launched the Zero Homelessness Initiative in 2009. Since then, the new VA secretary Robert McDonald has taken up the charge—with the goal of attempting to completely eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015.

However, the VA might want to get a better handle on some of the programs that could help them meet that goal. In the report, the IG recommended that  they put better protocols in place to make sure the phones were staffed at all times. The auditors also recommended the VA get rid of answering machines and improve staff training. The VA concurred with the recommendations.

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