Texas Veteran Assistance Delayed by Paperwork

Some veterans said they have been sleeping on Houston streets or in shelters due to a lack of agreement between federal and local officials over housing assistance vouchers.

Marine veteran William Hamilton told the Houston Chronicle he had been sleeping under bridges, on benches and sometimes visited shelters before he received a voucher last week from the Harris County Housing Authority.

He said he applied for veteran housing assistance in 2011 after the car he was living in was stolen.

According to the newspaper, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Houston housing officials have not been able to agree on how they count housing vouchers that are available for homeless veterans. In February, more than 150 homeless veterans participated in a housing readiness program at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, waiting to be referred to local housing authorities for rent assistance if they qualified.

The vouchers are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and veterans must be referred from the VA.

The Harris County Housing Authority said it had 60 housing vouchers set aside for veterans, but didn't receive referrals for four months. An audit of emails and data by the newspaper show about 720 months of rent from the county housing authority went unused last year. Another 370 months of rent were not used at the Houston Housing Authority.

The VA looks at the number of vouchers available each day. DeBakey officials said of the 1,370 veterans vouchers funded at local housing authorities, 1,350 currently are being used. But local housing authorities said they don't take into account the days vouchers aren't used, such as delays that occur in finding apartments or finishing required paperwork.

Some DeBakey officials said they are meeting federal expectations. DeBakey's director of mental health services Laura Marsh defended the VA's efforts but said the agency still faces hurdles.

A recent federal audit found a nationwide problem with unused vouchers.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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