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VA News

Former VA employees blow whistle on alleged wrongdoing in Jennings

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Whistle Blowers 002

 

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -There are allegations of patient neglect, fraud, and other corruption concerning home health care provided to Veterans in Jennings.

In addition to this clinic in Jennings, frail Veterans who are home bound are provided with home health services. According to complaints filed by two former employees the system is fraught with corruption.

One former employee says there was patient neglect, falsification of Veterans’ medical records, fraudulent billing, misuse of government vehicles, tampering with vehicle tracking systems and more.

Local Veteran and advocate for others, Jim Jackson, has no first-hand knowledge of the situation, but he says he’s not shocked or surprised.

"Where there's this much smoke, we better look for the fire, we better put it out. And it goes back to supervision. Without the supervision, quality supervision, quality people throughout, we don't have anything. The VA doesn't have anything."

Another part of the complaint describes nurses allegedly documenting home visits, miles traveled and serves when logs show the cars never moved.

"It's a paper trail. So, these people who drove three and four hundred miles in a half a day and saw nine patients, but their paperwork was straight. Did they see anybody or do anything? Probably not."

There is even one allegation about fraudulent visits after a patient had passed away.

Jackson says the VA needs more employees who care about Veterans.

"We have so many people who are there for the insurance, for the paycheck, for whatever and so few there for God and country to be responsive to the needs of that Veteran."

A spokesman says the VA takes the allegations seriously and that their office of accountability and whistle-blower protection is looking into them.

Both former employees say they have suffered retaliation and have filed complaints seeking whistle blower protection.

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Internal VA report questions Manchester whistleblowers' claims

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Whistle Blower

 

VA critics say other reports back up complaints

A draft report from an internal investigation into the Manchester VA Medical Center states that most claims made by whistleblowers about the care there are unfounded, but the report is being criticized as biased.

The 62-page report obtained by News 9 is from the Office of the Medical Inspector, which is an office in the Department of Veterans Affairs. It details the office's findings regarding claims made by 12 former Manchester VA staff members.

Among the complaints were that operating rooms weren't properly cleaned or cared for, that blood and rust were present on surgical instruments and that patients with cervical myelopathy were victims of malpractice.

According to the OMI, those claims were unfounded.

The report also addresses the whistleblowers, saying they became "distrustful and frustrated when they felt as if their clinical concerns were not addressed by their leadership."

But critics of the VA said the motivations behind the writers of the report are clear.

"It's a PR move. It's pure and simple," said Andrea Amodeo-Vickery, a lawyer for the whistleblowers. "The other three reports weren't publicized yet. They substantiated these same claims that this new report didn't substantiate."

“Oh, I think they have it terribly wrong,” said Dr. Stewart Levenson, former chair of the department of medicine at the Manchester VA and one of the whistleblowers. “There are several incidents that are truly tragic, where they say there are no problems because they followed VA protocols, which are blatantly wrong.”

Levenson said the VA system needs faster, safer patient care.

“The patients, the Veterans, suffer the most,” he said. “Several suffered horrible complications, maybe even death, because they didn't get their care on a timely basis.”

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., who is on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, also questioned the findings.

"I have spoken with highly regarded physicians that have serious concerns about the quality of care, and thus, I question the outcome of this particular investigation," she said.

Kuster said she's pleased with the current leadership at the Manchester VA and has asked the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for an independent investigation into the VA's previous practices.

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Dothan Veterans Affairs clinic to close

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Dothan Closes

 

DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) - Dothan's Veterans Affairs clinic is closing, leaving thousands of military Veterans with major questions about where they will receive health care in the future.

Nov. 30, 2018, will be the final day of operation for the Alexander Drive location across from Southeast Alabama Medical Center.

There are contracted employees along with a small number of actual federal government employees in this facility.

Once it closes, almost 5,000 patients — military Veterans — will be forced to use other VA options.

WDHN is committed to finding more answers as to what the future holds for local VA patients.

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs talks about future of VA during recent visit to the valley

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Robert Wilkie 002

 

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — It’s veterans like Daniel Kaminski who United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie got to know Thursday.

Kaminski is a United States Navy Veteran. He’s a well-known wheelchair athlete who’s not letting his spinal cord injury stop him from enjoying life.

“It's like going around town really going over bumps and hills,” Kaminski said.

Secretary Wilkie is making it his mission to connect with veterans on his cross-country tour of VA hospitals.

“The growth here in this part of Nevada is astounding,” Secretary Wilkie said.

He says the veteran population is getting bigger and younger.

“It is astounding seeing the growth of this place. As an Air Force officer watching Nellis grow and then seeing the growth outside the gate and the changes in the population of veterans in America,” Secretary Wilkie said.

He says big changes are coming to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System in North Las Vegas, President Donald Trump will make history Friday, signing an $86.5 billion appropriations bill that will provide funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It also reflects the change in the direction of the department we are opening up the aperture for veteran’s choice we are keeping the VA at the center of that veteran’s experience,” Secretary Wilkie said.

White House officials are calling it the largest dollar amount ever for veterans with $8.6 billion set aside for mental health services and $400 million towards preventing opioid abuse.

Thursday's visit has Secretary Wilkie excited for what the future holds for veterans and their families.

“Veterans want to be around people who speak their language and it's a unique language the language of service and being around people who understand those specific those particular experiences,” Secretary Wilkie said.

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VA exceeds goals for delivering appeals decisions on disability claims

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VA exceeds goals

 

The Veterans Affairs Department said it has surpassed its goal this year of delivering more than 81,000 appeals decisions on claims for disability benefits and services.

In doing so, VA said it delivered 28,000 more appeals decisions in fiscal 2018 than in fiscal 2017, a 52 percent increase.

In a press release Tuesday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the Board of Veteran’s Appeals had provided thousands of Veterans with critical, life-changing decisions.

“The Board’s historic achievement delivering results to Veterans and their families reflects VA’s hard work and commitment to getting it right for our Veterans under the leadership of President [Donald] Trump,” Wilkie said.

The achievement comes as the agency prepares for the full implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which aims to make the appeals process an easier, more timely and transparent process that is designed to give Veterans increased choice and control. The new law takes effect February 2019.

Getting ready for the rollout, VA said it has developed new IT capabilities and held numerous training sessions and panels for national, state, and local stakeholders. It also said 186 new attorneys have been hired this fiscal year to help the agency work through the new appeals program and address backlogged claims.

While the VA perfects its new process, it is trying to prove itself to Veterans by encouraging those who have pending claims to opt into the Rapid Appeals Modernization Plan (RAMP) .

VA sees RAMP as an opportunity for Veterans to get a faster decision on an appeal. Of the more than 50,000 Veterans participating in the program, VA said many are receiving decisions in an average of 100 days.

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VA officials say one in 10 department jobs is unfilled

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1 in 10 jobs Vacant

 

WASHINGTON — More than one in 10 Veterans Affairs jobs is currently unfilled, a vacancy rate being downplayed by department officials but likely to raise serious worries among lawmakers who have already voiced concerns about a lack of medical professionals for Veterans programs.

More than 45,000 department posts are currently unfilled, with about 40,000 in the Veterans Health Administration alone, according to new data released by the department last week.

The rate was even higher among VA staff offices, with more than 2,500 vacancies, nearly 17 percent of the budgeted management posts.

The figures were touted as another step toward transparency in federal government by VA officials, but were mandated to be made public by Congress in the recently passed VA Mission Act. The data was released just before 5 p.m. on the Friday before the extended Labor Day holiday weekend.

VA officials also called the information release positive news for their department, since it shows their employee turnover rates “compare favorably with other large cabinet-level agencies.”

But the number of vacancies — roughly 11 percent of the department’s workforce — is almost 10,000 higher than total open positions reported by VA officials.

For months, Democratic lawmakers have said the rising number of vacancies threatens to undermine VA care and services, and have criticized department leaders for not doing enough to fill the roles.

They have also pressed Republican colleagues to require VA fill many of those open positions before expanding care options outside the VA system, arguing that not properly staffing hospitals and clinics undermines the department’s ability to handle Veterans’ medical needs.

In a statement, VA said their health systems’ “workforce challenges” mirror that of the larger American health care industry.

“There is a national shortage of healthcare professionals, especially for physicians and nurses,” officials said. “VHA remains fully engaged in a fiercely competitive clinical recruitment market.”

The department also issued a pre-emptive rebuttal to critics of the staffing issues, calling them in line with other large health care systems and that “the best indicators of adequate staffing levels include Veteran access to care and health care outcomes, not vacancies.”

At his confirmation hearing in July, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he was not in favor of a “blunderbuss approach to filling the vacancies” because that could lead to a host of unqualified candidates undertaking sensitive department posts.

In a statement on Friday, Wilkie said that his department is “always looking for new ways to recruit high-quality talent, and will continue to do everything we can to provide the best quality care for our nation’s Veterans.”

Lawmakers have also been critical of leadership gaps at the department. President Donald Trump has been unable to nominate a new head of VA health services since becoming president in January 2017, and numerous other top jobs have turned over in the last 20 months.

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VA releases data on vacancies as required under MISSION Act

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DVA 003

 

Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its figures on employment vacancies as of June 30, as mandated each quarter under the recently passed MISSION Act.

VA reported the following vacancies:

  • 45,239 overall vacancies at the department, out of a total of 419,353 full-time authorized and budgeted positions. This overall number of vacancies includes:
  • 40,456 vacancies in the Veterans Health Administration, out of a total of 375,953 full-time authorized and budgeted positions
  • 1,978 vacancies in the Veterans Benefits Administration, out of a total of 25,560 full-time authorized and budgeted positions
  • 233 vacancies in the National Cemetery Administration, out of a total of 2,179 full-time authorized and budgeted positions
  • 2,572 vacancies in the department’s Staff Offices, out of a total of 15,661 full-time authorized and budgeted positions

“President Trump has made it clear that achieving the optimal workforce at VA is a top priority as we look to provide the best care and benefits to our nation’s heroes,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “My priority has been to have a clear and accurate picture of our vacancies, and getting this information out publicly is an important step in transparency to Veterans and taxpayers.”

With approximately 374,000 current employees, VA is the second largest federal organization in the United States. From the start of fiscal year (FY) 2014 to the end of FY 2017, VA achieved a growth rate of 12.5% and an average annual turnover (i.e., total loss) rate of 9.2%. VA turnover rates compare favorably with other large cabinet-level agencies, which averaged 11% in FY 2017. (1)

Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Vacancies

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest administration within VA, accounting for approximately 335,000 of VA’s 374,000 employees. VHA turnover rates compare favorably with the healthcare industry, including for those occupations identified as mission critical. (2) In FY 2017, VHA’s annual turnover rate for full-time and part-time employees was 9.1%, which compares well to the healthcare industry turnover rate of 20-30%. (3)

There is a consistent turnover of employees in large organizations such as VHA due to normal retirements and job changes. Vacancies represent current unencumbered positions due to turnover and new positions that are planned to meet an anticipated growth in services. VHA has approximately 40,000 vacancies, which is consistent with the historical annual 9% turnover rate and a 2-3% growth rate.

Staffing plans consider normal rates of workforce turnover, retirement, and growth, and the expectation that there will always be vacant positions. Each year, VHA hires more employees than it loses to replace turnover and keep up with the growth in demand for services. The best indicators of adequate staffing levels include Veteran access to care and health care outcomes – not vacancies:

  • VA now provides same-day services for care needs right away at all primary care and mental health clinics.
  • In FY18 to date, 21% of all appointments have been completed the same day that the appointment was requested.
  • The average time it took to complete an urgent referral to a specialist has decreased from 19.3 days in FY14 to 3.2 days in FY17 and 2.0 days in FY18 – this number continues to improve now down to 1.3 days during July of 2018.
  • VA completed 95% of follow-up appointments no later than the provider recommended date for time sensitive appointments in FY to date.
  • According to a recent RAND Corp. study, Veterans receive the same or better care at VA medical centers as patients at non-VA hospitals.
  • For inpatient care specifically, VA hospitals performed on average the same or significantly better than non-VA hospitals on 21 of 26 measures.
  • VA performed significantly better than commercial and Medicaid Health Maintenance Organizations on 28 of 30 measures, with no difference on the other two.
  • Although there was variation in performance across VA, the variation was even wider among non-VA hospitals.

VHA’s plans to fill vacancies

VHA’s workforce challenges mirror those of the health care industry as a whole. There is a national shortage of healthcare professionals, especially for physicians and nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Association of American Medical Colleges, and other national healthcare organizations have written about this workforce shortage at length.

VHA remains fully engaged in a fiercely competitive clinical recruitment market. VA has been successful in this fight – it has increased its number of clinical providers including hard-to-recruit-and-retain physicians such as psychiatrists.

VHA is taking a number of key steps to attract qualified candidates:

  • Mental Health and other targeted hiring initiatives;
  • Increased maximum physician salaries;
  • Utilization of recruitment/relocation and retention (3Rs) incentives and the Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP);
  • Targeted nationwide recruitment advertising and marketing;
  • The “Take A Closer Look at VA” trainee outreach recruitment program;
  • Expanding opportunities for telemedicine providers;
  • DoD/VA effort to recruit transitioning service members; and
  • Exhibiting regularly at key healthcare conferences and job fairs.

The Mission Act also provides additional authority that VA will leverage for recruitment and retention of medical professionals, including:

  • Initiating a pilot scholarship program targeted toward Veterans for medical school education;
  • Increasing the maximum award amount for the Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP), and expanding program eligibility to additional mental health providers; and
  • Offering recent medical school graduates loan repayment opportunities in exchange for service in VA Medical Centers through the Specialty Education Loan Repayment Program (SELRP).

Together, these tools expand VA’s already robust and aggressive staffing initiatives to retain high-quality providers for our Veterans.

“Despite a challenging and ultra-competitive market for filling health care positions across the country, VA has worked with Congress and other key stakeholders to deploy a number of new and important tools to help us reduce our vacancies,” said Secretary Wilkie. “We are always looking for new ways to recruit high-quality talent, and will continue to do everything we can to provide the best quality care for our nation’s Veterans.”

Applying for a position at VA

VA is continuously recruiting for committed professionals who are dedicated to serving our nation’s Veterans. Employment at VA provides a good salary, comprehensive benefits and great work/life balance. Above all else, the highest honor in working at VA is the opportunity to serve the brave men and women who have served our country. Additional information regarding careers at VA can be found at www.vacareers.va.gov/.

  1. OPM Fedscope data retrieved in July 2018 www.fedscope.opm.gov/index.asp
  2. The annual “National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report” published by NSI Nursing Solutions Inc. in January 2017 identified turnover rates for nurses and other health professionals. VHA’s turnover rate for registered nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists was lower than the industry average reported for these occupations.
  3. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) JOLT (Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey), www.bls.gov/jlt/

Source

Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act

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VA Appeals Process Changes

 

The VA appeals process is going through its biggest change since the 1980s. In 2017, Congress passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. This act takes apart the current appeal system and replaces it with a new process aimed to improve the experience for all involved in the process.

First, let’s recap what the system currently looks like. Ready? Claimant files a claim. The VA regional office, RO, sends VCAA letter. After that, RO mails notice of its decision. Claimant files notice of disagreement. The claimant must file NOD within one year of mailing of rating decision. The claimant has the option of requesting a DRO review, but the claimant must request DRO review within 60 days of VA letter offering it. If the claim is denied, VA mails a statement of the case, SOC. Note, if the VA grants the claim, then you go back to the beginning of this process. The claimant has 60 days to file the Substantive Appeal VA Form 9 from the date of the SOC or a year from the date of the rating decision, whichever is later. Board of Appeals decides the case, appeals to the CAVC within 120 days. Of course, if a claim is granted at any point, then it goes back to the beginning of this cycle, and the appeal process starts all over again. Ugh.

Let’s take a brief look at what stays the same and what is changing. Then we can talk about how the process works.

There will still be a rating decision after every claim is filed. A claimant will still have the opportunity to have a more seasoned adjudicator review the decision in the regional office. The claimant can still appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. What’s gone? State of the case, gone. VA Form 9, gone. Reopened claims? Not anymore. The need for new and material evidence, gone. DRO decision, gone. What is replacing these? Supplemental claims, relevant evidence, higher level review, one NOD filed directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The middleman is gone.

In the current system, when a veteran is dissatisfied with a decision and wants to preserve the date of the claim, he has only one route: file an NOD. Forgot to file a necessary document? File an NOD. Missing a piece of evidence? File an NOD. The VA made a mistake of law? File an NOD.

Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act

Now, when a veteran files a new claim, the VA will issue a rating decision that must contain the following: what issues were decided, summary of evidence considered by the VA, summary of applicable laws and regulations, identification of findings favorable to the claimant, explanation of why claim was denied, explanation of how to get evidence used in making the decision, and identification of criteria that must be satisfied to grant service connection or the next higher level of compensation. After this rating decision, you have one year to take action. You are to appeal for a higher review at the RO, file new evidence or file an NOD to go to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

Higher Level Review

You have one year from the initial claim to seek this route. This lane allows for a quality check on the original opinion while still at the VA regional office. Now, you cannot submit additional evidence or request a hearing here. The review is de novo, which is fancy Latin meaning review without giving weight to the prior decision. If the decision is favorable, your original claim date is preserved. If it is unfavorable, you have an option to file a supplemental claim or to file an NOD to appeal to the board.

Supplemental Claim

Welcome to the new evidence lane. You have one year from the date of your decision to file additional evidence. Under the new law, this is now referred to as a supplemental claim. In this lane, you may submit additional evidence that is new and relevant. Upon receipt of your new evidence, VA will attempt to make a decision within 125 days. Your effective date, the day from which the VA will pay your benefits, will be the day you file the first claim.

Once the adjudicator makes a decision, you must ask yourself, are you satisfied with this decision? At this point, you get to choose from the three options again: one, as you’ve already done, you can submit additional evidence within a year and preserve the date of your claim; two, you can request a higher level review; or three, board review lane.

Board Review Lane

This is where you file an NOD and your case moves from the regional office to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Here, there will be three lanes to choose from: one, fully developed appeal, a claim that is ready for decision by the BVA and there is no further evidence to submit; two, hearing request with the chance to submit additional evidence; or three, request to submit evidence but not hold a hearing. If the decision is favorable, your original claim date is preserved. If it is unfavorable, you have an option to file a supplemental claim within a year, or you can file an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. You only have 120 days to file this appeal though.

File an appeal with the CAVC and win, and your original claim date is preserved. If you do not prevail, then you have a year to file a supplemental claim. Should you win after that, you still preserve your original claim date.

Source

VA expands Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program to improve service to Veterans

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Rehab Employment

 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E) recently began the process of reducing the average counselor-to-caseload ratio, to one to 125 or below, through the hiring of 172 vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs).

The hiring effort, which began early this summer, will help improve service to Veterans with service-connected disabilities and employment barriers, as well as help provide them with expedited services to improve their ability to transition to the civilian workforce.

“The VR&E program is much more than a benefits program,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s a vital support network, where VA’s expert counselors work closely with Veterans on their personalized vocational rehabilitation goals. Congressional funding enables us to expand our team of counselors who are on the ground across the country working tirelessly for Veterans, and we appreciate their support.”

VA is committed to ensuring its counselors have manageable caseloads and the resources needed to ensure Veterans are receiving thorough, quality services.

Currently, 941 counselors are working across VA’s 56 regional offices, as well as in out-based and satellite locations.

Once hiring is complete for the additional 172 counselors, a total of 1,113 VRCs will be deployed in the field to serve Veterans. This includes 905 VRCs at regional and out-based offices, 132 Integrated Disability Evaluation System counselors at 71 military installations and 76 Veteran Success on Campus counselors at 105 institutions of higher learning.

Since 2014, over 56,000 Veterans have either completed a rehabilitation plan, are employed or have achieved a greater independence in living through VR&E assistance. The VR&E program currently has more than 123,000 participants. For more information about VR&E, visit www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/.

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#Veterans #military #employment #Veteransaffairs

VA announces upcoming awards of nearly $326M in grants to help at-risk Veterans and family members

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Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that thousands of low-income Veteran families around the nation will continue to receive benefits under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.

These Veterans, who are permanently housed or transitioning to permanent housing, will continue to have access to crucial services with the funding of approximately $326 million in grants.

SSVF funding, which supports outreach, case management and other flexible assistance rapidly to re-house Veterans who are homeless — or at risk of becoming homeless — will be awarded to 252 nonprofit organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A list of applicants that will be awarded grants is located at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.

“At VA, we’re dedicated to fulfilling President Lincoln’s promise of taking care of Veterans and their families, and the SSVF program has proven extremely effective in doing just that. It provides low-income Veterans and their families with the services and support they need to secure and maintain stable housing,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our hope is to see many more Veterans avoid or exit homelessness because of these important grants.”

Grantees will continue to provide eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management and assistance obtaining VA and other benefits. These may include:

  • Health care
  • Fiduciary payee
  • Financial planning
  • Child care
  • Legal support
  • Transportation
  • Housing counseling, and
  • Other services

SSVF grantees are expected to leverage supportive services grant funds to enhance the housing stability of low-income Veteran families that are occupying permanent housing. In doing so, grantees are required to establish relationships with local community resources.

In fiscal year (FY) 2017, SSVF served more than 129,450 participants, including approximately 83,900 Veterans and 27,535 children. Because of these and other efforts, Veteran homelessness is down significantly since the launch of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in 2010.

The applicants to which grants will be awarded competed under a Nov. 6, 2017, Notice of Fund Availability. Applications were due Jan. 12, 2018. The funding will support SSVF services in FY 2019, which starts Oct. 1, 2018, and ends Sept. 30, 2019.

The SSVF program is authorized by 38 U.S.C. 2044. VA implements the program by regulations in 38 CFR Part 62. Visit www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp to learn more about the SSVF program.

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