Vets may get help in budget proposal

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa veteran groups say in order to accommodate veterans’ needs, they will have to address several issues — including homelessness and mental health.

President Obama proposed a $163.9 billion budget for the Veterans Affairs Health Care System earlier this month, which includes the Iowa City VA hospital.

However, the Iowa City VA will not know the effects of the proposed increase in the budget unless it passes, said Valerie Buckingham, the public affairs officer for the facility.

While the Johnson County Commission of Veterans Affairs and the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs do not receive direct federal funding, both work with VA Health Care System to ensure veterans get the care they need.

The president’s proposed budget includes a $1.6 billion request for programs to prevent or reduce homelessness, a major goal for 2015 for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development, there are almost 58,000 homeless veterans on any given night.

“It’s upsetting to see the situation people contend with,” said Robert King, the executive director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs.

But ending veteran homelessness is a complicated task because “it’s not one-stop shopping,” he said.

King, who served 36 years in the Iowa National Guard, before being appointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs by Gov. Terry Branstad, said there are programs, community groups, and shelters designed specifically to aid homeless veterans.

Despite the programs designed to assistant veterans with housing, King said, each homeless veteran has specific issues to address — and for some, that issue is mental health.

Veterans are faced with a range of mental and physical illnesses when they return from duty, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, wrote Gary Boseneiler, the director of the Johnson County Commission of Veterans Affairs, in an email. 

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a large number of veterans who have been displaced or are at-risk for homelessness live with PTSD.

Boseneiler and other commission members work with the organization Recovery in Action, a group comprising a range of experts including social workers, mental-health staff, and employment councilors.

“We work together to find the best possible solution for veterans in need so they can become self-sustainable,” Boseneiler wrote in an email.

University of Iowa political-science Associate professor Tim Hagle said the proposed VA budget would likely pass, but the parties will have to play politics because it is part of the bigger overall federal budget.

“It won’t come up all by itself; that’s where the problems come in,” he said, “Will you give the opposing part some of what they want to get what you want?”

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