Obama has plan to house veterans
Candidate readies voucher proposal
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama today planned to unveil a housing program for veterans aimed at keeping them off the streets when their service is completed.
The Illinois senator said he would introduce legislation that he calls Homes for Heroes, which would establish grant and voucher programs to encourage development of affordable housing targeted for veterans.
"Veterans are far more likely to be homeless than nonveterans and part of it is because we're not providing services to them as they transition out of the service," Obama said in an interview Friday before a campaign rally. "Part of it is because there is just not enough affordable housing."
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that as many as 200,000 are living on the streets or in shelters and perhaps twice as many are homeless at some time in the course of a year.
Obama, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, concluded a three-day trip to Iowa last week by touring the Iowa Veterans Home and focusing on veterans issues.
He has walked a fine line on the issue, mixing his opposition to the war in Iraq with support for the troops.
"During the course of this war, one of the things I think we did learn from Vietnam was that whether you are for or against a war, everyone has to honor and respect the service and sacrifice of the troops," Obama said.
Obama said the government spends billions on the war but has consistently shortchanged programs for veterans, whose needs should be a top priority.
"We haven't always done that in our federal budget," said Obama. "During the course of this war the VA has consistently low-balled their requests for funding."
In addition to problems like substance abuse, Obama said, the lack of affordable housing has been a consistent problem for veterans. He said his legislation would address that shortfall.
"What we've done is we've increased voucher programs. We're encouraging grants and loans for nonprofits to build affordable housing for veterans," he said.
Obama said he chose to visit the Iowa Veterans Home because of its solid reputation. The center is essentially a state-financed retirement home for veterans.
"The fact that you have an outstanding veterans home that's state-run here, I think that has to be the model for how the federal VA system is run, as well as how states around the country ought to be operating," Obama said. "We wanted to highlight what a good-quality veterans home looks like to make sure that's the standard by which the VA system is operated."
In his three days in Iowa, Obama focused on veterans. At each of his stops he held meetings -- usually in private -- with small groups of veterans, and he packed more than 250 people into a VFW Hall in tiny Dakota City on Thursday.
"It's to say thank you for their service," Obama said. "I reminded them that my grandfather served in World War II."
Obama said it was the 20th county he had visited in Iowa since beginning his campaign.