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Effects of legislation for homeless veterans uncertain

by Jim Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Local officials aren't sure exactly how new legislation designed to end homelessness among military veterans will affect the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center.

Tammy Gorby, who handles the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program at the Clarksburg facility, said the legislation should help her, but was unsure how much money Clarksburg will get or exactly how the programs will be administered.

Medical center spokesman Stan Frum said the legislation actually is in limbo right now, as Veterans Affairs officials are waiting for President George Bush to sign it into law before they can decide how to implement the programs.

"Unfortunately, we don't really have the nuts and bolts of it to know how it will be implemented," Frum said.

The goal of the Comprehensive Homeless Veterans Assistance Act is to end veteran homelessness within a decade, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said.

Rockefeller said estimates put the number of homeless veterans across the country at more than 300,000, with about 800 of them in West Virginia.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," Rockefeller said. "Veterans have put their lives on the line for their country in its time of need, and now we need to be there for them in their time of need."

The legislation:

n Provides funding for community-based programs that provide transitional housing for veterans;

n Requires the VA to offer mental health services;

n Provides $50 million a year until 2006 for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program;

n Creates a dental care program for homeless veterans who complete 60 consecutive days of a rehabilitative program;

n Establishes an external committee to reduce and prevent homelessness.

"This bill sets a challenging but attainable goal of ending chronic homelessness among veterans within a decade," Rockefeller said. "Unless we aim high, we will never end the problem."

Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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