While first lady Michelle Obama has personally crusaded to end veteran homelessness, the Veterans Affairs marquee program to address the problem has stumbled badly in outreach to homeless veterans, failing to answer, check on or provide prompt service to tens of thousands who called its help line, an internal investigation found.
Of the estimated 79,500 homeless veterans who contacted the VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans last year, nearly 27 percent were unable to reach a counselor and had to leave messages, 16 percent could not be referred to VA medical facilities because their messages were inaudible or lacked contact information, and 4 percent were not referred to VA facilities at all, the VA’s internal watchdog reported Wednesday.
“The Call Center lacked adequate management and operational controls to ensure homeless veterans had around-the-clock access to counselors and received needed homeless support services,” the inspector general reported.
The VA-staffed call center, located in Canandaigua, New York, is the primary vehicle for the agency to communicate with veterans and community providers about support programs and services for homeless veterans. Theoretically, homeless veterans can call 24 hours a day seven days a week and speak with a trained counselor.
But the inspector general identified 40,500 cases last year in which the call center did not refer homeless veterans to medical facilities or it closed referrals without following up with the VA to ensure the veterans received care.