Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. And thanks also to Bill Baer and Michael Botticelli for arranging this very timely discussion.
Seven years ago, VA named ending Veterans homelessness as one of its three main objectives. With the help of the First Lady’s Joining Forces Initiative and Mayors Challenge, we’ve forged powerful partnerships among Federal, state, and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations … and as a result, Veterans homelessness is down by 47 percent since 2010.
One of the reasons for our success has been the realization that the No. 1 risk factor behind Veterans homelessness is not mental illness, as we once thought—it’s substance abuse. And all too often, that substance abuse begins with opioids prescribed by DoD or VA doctors for service-related conditions. In fact, Veterans are 10 times more likely to abuse opioids than the average American.
Veterans are also more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and mental illness, which can lead to substance abuse, homelessness, criminality, and even suicide.
All of these things are preventable. We know that Veterans in our care are less likely to commit suicide, commit crimes, or end up homeless. So our focus has been on getting at-risk Veterans into the VA healthcare system.
For homeless Veterans, we’ve employed a proven strategy called “Housing First”—because treating Veterans for any condition is a lot easier once their basic need for shelter is met.
For justice-involved Veterans, we’re working with over 400 Veteran Treatment Courts, making sure eligible Veterans get timely treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, and other VA services and benefits.
For Veterans reentering society after incarceration, we’re working with Reintegration Into Society Effort (RISE) Courts to reduce the risk of recidivism and promote employment opportunities and economic stability.
We owe it to the Nation’s Veterans to help them end their dependence on opioids and break the downward spiral that all too often ends in homelessness, prison, or suicide.
But we can’t do it on our own. We rely on thousands of public- and private-sector partners to do what VA can’t do on its own.
We need your help to give America’s most vulnerable Veterans a chance to escape the revolving doors of emergency rooms, shelters, and jails.
It’s not just the right thing to do: It’s the smart thing to do—for Veterans themselves and for the communities their live in.
Thank you for being here today. I’m sure your time will be well spent.
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