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Rep. Mike Levin
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Levin’s bill aimed at helping homeless veterans awaits Trump’s approval

REGION — In mid-December, Congress passed a bipartisan-supported bill primarily sponsored by Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) that aims to strengthen and expand services for veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Formally called the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act, the bill allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to increase services for homeless veterans during the pandemic.

According to Levin, the government should be doing more to help veterans get back on their feet, especially now in the middle of a pandemic.

“This pandemic has been devastating for all Americans, including those who have served and sacrificed for our country,” Levin said in a statement. “I have seen veterans in my district lining up for food, heard from homeless and housing insecure veterans who couldn’t access desperately-needed resources, and met with veterans who struggled to start new careers despite services that should’ve been there for them.”

Specifically, the bill reallocates grant funds to provide homeless veterans and veterans who participate in the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program with transportation, safety and survival assistance and communication equipment.

The bill also allows the VA to work with other organizations to manage use of VA land for sheltering homeless veterans, provides more funds for transitional housing, and waives certain inspection and safety code requirements to make adjustments for social distancing and isolation needs.

Additionally, the bill requires the VA to make sure the homeless veterans participating in one of its programs to have access to telehealth services.

The bill also requires the VA to complete an analysis of its programs providing assistance to women veterans who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness. The VA must identify areas in which its programs are failing to properly meet the needs of women veterans and then submit a report with those findings to Congress.

“We simply cannot allow our veterans to fall into homelessness,” Levin said during his remarks about the bill to Congress earlier in December.

The bill includes several other bipartisan bills that Levin had previously introduced to the House, including one he introduced in 2019 along with Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) that would create a pilot program for off-base transition training. This particular provision aims to the transition process to civilian life easier for veterans and spouses by providing more time to access resources.

The bill has been supported by several veterans organizations and leaders, including American Legion National Commander James W. Oxford.

“This package improves women’s healthcare at VA, protects the GI Bill, addresses toxic exposure issues ranging from Vietnam to today, and affords veterans much-needed protections during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Oxford said in a statement.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed the bill, which means its fate now rests in the hands of President Donald Trump to sign it into law. As of Dec. 28, Trump has yet to sign the bill, but its chances of becoming law are pretty good according to www.govtrack.us.

“This legislation will make a real difference for veterans across the country,” Levin told Congress.

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