07.15.15

Rounds to VA: You Can’t Balance Your Budget on the Backs of Homeless Veterans

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald asking for more information regarding the announced closure of the Homeless Veteran Outreach Center in Sioux Falls. In June, the Center - which has served more than 1200 veterans - was notified that its contract would not be renewed. According to news reports, the contract was not renewed in an effort to make up for a $7 million budget shortfall this year.

“It is disheartening to see the VA cut programs that make a difference in our veterans’ lives at the same time the agency is plagued with mismanagement,” wrote Rounds in the letter. “As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, protecting our most vulnerable veterans is a priority for me. I am open to work with you to reduce waste in the VA and find savings within the bureaucratic system. However, I am not supportive of balancing the VA’s budget on the backs of homeless veterans.”

Full text of the letter:

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July 15, 2015

The Honorable Robert McDonald

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Ave, NW

Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary McDonald:

 

I write concerning the closure of Homeless Veteran Outreach Center (Center) in Sioux Falls, SD. The Center, run by the Volunteers of America of the Dakotas is of vital importance to homeless veterans in Sioux Falls and must not be allowed to close.

 

The Center offers laundry, shower facilities, job search assistance, treatment rooms, food and internet access for homeless and at-risk veterans. In the last four years, the Center has served more than 1,200 individual veterans. These services have been made possible by building community partnerships with churches, Veteran Service Organizations, concerned stakeholders and contribution from the Sioux Falls Veterans Affairs (SFVA) to protect our most vulnerable veterans.

 

Although the Center has provided exceptional service and has become an integral part of many veterans’ lives, the SFVA plans to stop funding the service. In April 2015, the Center was notified that the contract would be renewed. However, in June the Center received another letter stating the contract will not be renewed. According to local news reports the SFVA is trying to address a $7 million shortfall this fiscal year. Reportedly, the SFVA will save $180,000 by canceling its contract with the Center.

 

On June 26, 2015, I requested an explanation regarding the contract cancellation. I have yet to receive a response. In the meantime, reports of the contract cancellation have been construed as due to budget cuts within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Or more specifically, as a budgeting error where the VA underestimated the demand of health care services. It is very frustrating to see this because Congress has increased the VA’s budget by 73% since 2009 as well as allocating an additional $15 billion under the Veterans Choice Act to help address the needs of our veterans.

 

It is disheartening to see the VA cut programs that make a difference in our veterans’ lives at the same time the agency is plagued with mismanagement. The Denver hospital is $1 billion over budget. There have been reports from the Inspector General of $54 million in potentially fraudulent purchases of prosthetics in New York. Another VA Inspector General report cites the misappropriation of $43 million by VA officials. I respectfully request the VA look at their bureaucratic inefficiencies for savings rather than reducing services for our nation’s veterans.

 

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, protecting our most vulnerable veterans is a priority for me. I am open to work with you to reduce waste in the VA and find savings within the bureaucratic system. However, I am not supportive of balancing the VA’s budget on the backs of homeless veterans. Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to your response.  

 

Sincerely,

 

M. Michael Rounds

United States Senator