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Budget ax looms over veterans housing program


Sam Morris

Veteran Marcus Lyman says, “The best thing about having the housing is you have a base. If I lose my housing, it will be me and my service dog, on the street, homeless again.”

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 (2:01 a.m.)

Veterans Stand Down

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KSNV coverage of Las Vegas Veterans Stand Down, March 24, 2011.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Bob Lot, a Vietnam veteran who lives on just a few dollars a day, is waiting for a home.

Lot is one of many Las Vegas veterans who has counted himself among the city’s homeless. The 57-year-old cancer survivor has never been well off, but was doing OK until he lost his job as a waiter five years ago. Then he lost his RV.

Faced with living on the street, Lot ended up at the doorstep of the U.S. Veterans program, where he spends nights in a multioccupancy dormitory for which he pays the bulk of his veteran’s benefit — $340 of the $500 he receives — every month.

Lot says he’s tried to get a job, even offering to pump gas and selling his blood to make a little cash. But at his age and in his condition, real jobs just haven’t been in the offing.

For the past 13 months though, Lot has been pinning his hopes on a waiting list for a federal program he hopes can get him into a more stable home — and from there, back on his feet.

“If I can get the voucher, I can have a little more money to spend each month,” he said.

The program he’s been counting on is a creation of the Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs departments from 1992 known as HUD-VASH. The program offers 20,000 veterans a year housing at a subsidized cost equal to 30 percent of their income.

It has become such a mainstay that since 2008, Congress has apportioned an extra

$75 million a year to pay for an additional 10,000 vouchers, to get veterans like Lot under the umbrella of the program.

But this year, the extra pot of vouchers is one Congress may end up scaling back as lawmakers strip cash from the federal budget to chip away at the country’s mounting debt.

It’s one of many programs that might be on the chopping block, but one that’s causing special consternation in Las Vegas, where the veterans population is higher than average, and the count of homeless in their ranks is growing.

“In our area, this program is huge: Over 600 veterans have been helped ... if there’s one name on that list, it’s too long,” said Larry Williams, who manages homeless programs for the U.S. Veterans office in Las Vegas. “One out of every five homeless here are veterans ... how do you expect to help them with their issues, how do you expect them to get a job, if they have no residence? If you take away the HUD vouchers, they send you back to square one.”

Those questions are being echoed by Democrats all the way up the political food chain in Washington. They are pointing an accusing finger at Republicans for even making the suggestion.

“Taking a meat ax to an initiative that keeps Nevada veterans off the street is not just reckless, it’s immoral,” Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said. “The Republicans’ proposal is too extreme, attempting to balance the budget on the backs of our men and women in uniform.”

The Democrats’ vitriol refers to House Resolution 1, which passed the House but was voted down by the Senate this month. Although dead, it still is the most concrete proposal on the fiscal 2011 budget that’s been publicly unveiled.

But there a complication. Although Democrats are accusing Republicans of pushing a political agenda through on the backs of the country’s unluckiest vets, Republicans are accusing them of using those veterans as pawns to fight the cuts at hand.

“There’s a cut at HUD. So what’s the most politically correct program HUD does? Veterans,” one congressional Republican aide said. “They picked the veterans because it sounds the worst. But it doesn’t mean you’re going to do that.”

The tricky part in all of this comes because the pots of money being targeted for cuts aren’t necessarily referred to specifically under the bill. The dollars fall under discretionary funding, meaning although Congress indicated its intention for how the extra dollars for veterans housing were to be spent, it’s up to the department to execute their directions. Simply put, it’s not as explicit as Democrats suggest.

That Republicans are focusing their cuts solely on discretionary funding has been a complaint by Reid and others.

At times, it’s left a lot of room for interpretation that Republicans have questioned, such as Reid’s accusation that $133 million in cuts to the FBI will strap the bureau’s hate crime investigations specifically — a possibility, maybe even a likelihood, but not a cut that Reid could guarantee would take place.

That said, nonpartisan budget experts seem to solidly be of the opinion that Democrats’ read of the cuts to housing vouchers would gut the program.

“Funding to provide new housing vouchers to 10,000 homeless veterans would be eliminated,” wrote Douglas Rice, a senior analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, in his analysis of the changes that the Republicans’ proposal, HR1, would bring to low-income housing.

Although there’s still a ways to go — the new budget deadline is April 8, but with Congress in recess for the past week, not much progress has been made — veterans servicers in Las Vegas are bracing for bad news.

“If they cut the program off, you’re going to have a lot of veterans out there with no hope, lingering from one soup kitchen to the other,” Williams said. “And our job (to find them) will become exponentially more demanding.”

“Your family can’t come visit you when you’re living on a sidewalk,” said Marcus Lyman, a 63-year-old Vietnam vet who was on the streets for 20 years before receiving his HUD-VASH voucher, battling mental illness, and drug and alcohol addictions.

“The best thing about having the housing is you have a base,” he said. “If I lose my housing, it will be my and my service dog, on the street, homeless again.”

Contributing from Las Vegas was special correspondent Kim Palchikoff.

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Discussion: 27 comments so far…

  1. Sad state of America today, our liberal politicians have spent trillions upon trillions on their wasted socialist programs that have never worked let alone produced anything useful or positive.

    It's time to take back America and give to those who truly deserve much more than what is being done for them. We can start with liberals and their no good for nothing blood sucking mindless trolls, this is a good start and would free up a few trillion or more a year. We'll work way down their socialist program list and cut them as well and before too long, all veterans would have what they're rightfully due.

  2. Let me get this straight -- our country has the biggest and baddest military machine on the planet currently roaming the globe creating missions to justify its existence, yet it can't find the $$ to take care of the damaged vets it sends home?? That is the epitome of shame.

    "Remember that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have." -- Barry Goldwater (1909-1998), Republican Senator from Arizona, 1964 candidate for President

  3. Bashing American Veterans make you feel better, guns4hire?

    How about you, Rustyswingset?

    It's a damn shame, and CRIMINAL, IMO, how America is treating it's Vets these days.

    "Thanks for Nothin'."

  4. If the nation is no longer willing to care for our Veterans, then I suggest we stop making them.

    Everyone deals with war and traumatic experiences differently. There is no need to degrade the service of any veteran who is seeking help, especially a veteran who has seen combat.

  5. You might call me biased because I am a vet but both parties have me mad about this.

    Democrats are trying to shame the Republicans for picking on vets, and the Republicans say the Democrats are cherry picking a possible action that is not specified to create fear and anger. The bottom line is that both major parties are using vets for political purposes.

    For Whigs, it's not even a question that would ever come up. Veterans rights are part of the very core of what we believe and base all policy on. From "What We Believe" ( http://www.whigsofnevada.org/welcome-nev... ): "Veterans Affairs - Vigilant advocacy relating to the medical, financial, and overall well-being of our military families and veterans."

  6. Rusty...
    I have a clue that you are a nasty nitwit.

  7. I can't believe what I just read in the preceding comment at the end.

    NO vet with an honorable discharge is undeserving! Each and every one of them deserves our respect, and yes, support to whatever extent is possible.

    If the day ever comes that we can not depend upon citizens to answer the call to duty we will have ceased to exist as a people.

  8. Amen, boftx.
    Unconscionable & inexcusable. Period. No Ifs, ands, or butts. Er...buts.

  9. The Republican Chicken Hawks like Bohnner, Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, and Sandoval, don't care about the VETS, it is just a sound bite "I support the Troops" they don't really care about VETS.

    Let's cut the military budget to pay for Veterans benefits.

  10. The Republicans have kept themselves busy trying to nullify child labor laws and preventing military women from getting abortions, even if the women pay for them.

    Republicans focus on bringing babies into the world but that's where it ends. The babes are Out of Luck if they need education, food and help for being destroyed in Wars to protect and feed the wealthy.

  11. The proposed cuts are to HUD only, not to any specific program. That's just more dishonest hyperbole by Reid and gang.

    The Democrats are invited to come up with a different budget that cuts other things, but they just want to continue spending.

    That' what got us here in the first place. When you have more going out than coming in, something has to give. And yes, I'm a vet of two services.

  12. Sounds like the guy has a place to live now, so all is not that bad, the article is a little misleading at best,not enough info to make a real judgement on this issue. I know my dad spent 23 years in the Air Force but do not know what his retirement pay was from them. He was able to get a job after retiring from the AF at age 41. I still think putting up a huge tent camp in the desert is an option to help these people have a place to sleep while they figure out their next move. I know the military teaches you how to survive, perhaps some of these folks need that course again to jump start their lives. Maybe some can get a job building that train..