The Veterans Affairs Department is deploying staff around the country to provide health care services to homeless former service members, launching the initiative as part of President Biden’s promise to end veterans homelessness.
VA will send out 25 mobile medical units, or MMUs, across the country over the next six weeks, a project that began this week in Orlando, Fla. The teams will offer a variety of specialists, including mental health clinicians, social workers, primary care providers, audiologists and others.
The department is aiming to house 38,000 veterans in 2023, with efforts based on the “housing first” approach that prioritizes finding a home for an individual before offering other services. Once housed, VA can offer other support such as job training and education assistance.
While longer-term health care solutions often follow housing stability, the mobile units will help veterans address acute issues distinct to homeless individuals. Other officials from the local area's greater homeless programs may also join the teams "for specific outreach events to provide linkage to broader services," Gary Kunich, a VA spokesman, said.
“Veterans experiencing homelessness face a variety of barriers to accessing health care, including a lack of transportation,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “With these new mobile medical units, homeless and at-risk Veterans don’t have to visit VA hospitals. We come right to them.”
The MMUs will move from location to location, offering a private space for veterans to receive care. VA has for years been growing its cadre of vehicle-based health care services, which have typically deployed in response to hurricanes and other emergencies, and the 25 MMUs will add to the department’s fleet of 83 “mobile vet centers.” Those centers provide veterans with space for confidential counseling in areas that are far from existing services.
VA and the Housing and Urban Development Department have found significant success over the last 15 years in their efforts to reduce veteran homelessness. Since 2010, the number of homeless veterans has declined by 55%.
Between early 2020 and early 2022, the figure dropped by 11% to 33,000, according to a point-in-time count by HUD, VA and the Interagency Council on Homelessness. Efforts ramped up significantly in 2010 after President Obama announced a goal to end the crisis entirely within five years.
Homelessness among veterans in Florida "has been effectively cut by almost 70% since 2010," according to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Then, there were 7,794 homeless veterans reported; "the 2019 count reported 2,472 homeless veterans."
The new mobile units come from VA’s Homeless Patient Aligned Care Teams, a program launched in 2011. The teams are in every high-volume homeless city, as well as rural communities, and are comprised of nearly 200 staff. Kunich, the VA spokesman, said the size of each team will vary depending on local needs.
Jim Rosica contributed. A version of this story was first published on Government Executive.