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VA amends regulations to expand eligibility for benefits for homeless veterans

On November 3, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published in the federal register a final rule to amend the agency’s regulations governing homeless veterans. VA issued the rule in response to legislation passed by Congress and enacted by the president in December 2016 (P.L. 114-315, sec. 701-703) requiring VA to expand its definition of “veteran” as it applies to VA benefits for homeless veterans. The new definition has been expanded to include those veterans who would otherwise be ineligible for certain benefits due to their length of service or discharge status. Additionally, the rule increases the rates of payment for the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program and the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program to compensate for increased operational costs associated with providing transitional housing.

Counties across the United States provide a range of services to our homeless populations, including veterans, and may use the GPD and SSVF programs to reduce veteran homelessness in their communities. This new regulation will increase the payments provided by these programs and is designed to ensure that these and other resources for homeless veterans are able to reach as many veterans as possible. The VA has called the rule “an essential part of VA’s attempts to eliminate homelessness among the veteran population.”

The VA currently defines veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released there from under conditions other than dishonorable.” This new rule amends the VA’s definition, as it applies to homeless veterans, to state that a veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, regardless of length of service, and who was discharged or released there from,” with an exception for those who were dishonorably discharged or were dismissed by way of a general court-martial sentence. These changes allow homeless veterans with certain types of discharges to receive benefits for which they may not have been previously eligible, and remove any length-of-service restrictions for homeless veterans to receive benefits.

America’s counties support the goal of ending homelessness among veterans and military families, including using temporary assistance and shelter resources to assist with permanent housing placement. NACo applauds the VA’s efforts to improve services for homeless veterans and encourages both Congress and the administration to continue to increase the resources targeted to end homelessness among veterans through programs such as the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) program, Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program, and the Grants and Per Diem program.