First lady Michelle Obama on Thursday decried the fact that tens of thousands of American military veterans are homeless.
“The idea that anyone who has worn our country’s uniform spends their nights sleeping on the ground should horrify us. And so it is truly our duty to right this wrong and put an end to veteran homelessness, once and for all,” she said at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.
“The fact that right now, our country has more than 58,000 homeless veterans, well, that’s a stain on the soul of this nation,” she added.
Obama said that 97 local leaders have pledged their support to end homelessness among veterans in their communities by the end of next year. At least 85 other mayors, governors and county officials had already committed to the pledge, part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, in June.
Obama said that finding shelter for former soldiers is the first step toward ending homelessness for other Americans, too. She also wrote an op-ed for McClatchy to address the need for such social change.
“Any number of veterans left out in the cold is too many, but those numbers show us that even in some of our largest metropolitan areas, ending veteran homelessness is eminently achievable,” Obama wrote, adding later, “It’s up to us to show these veterans we’ve got their backs.”
Congress passed a $17 billion measure Thursday to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, after months of partisan debate about how to address mismanagement and long wait times for medical care.
The VA came under fire earlier this year for claims that a VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona used secret lists to conceal wait times for primary care that surpassed the maximum 14-day period. The VA’s secretary at the time, Eric Shinseki, resigned in May and some officials were placed on administrative leave as 26 facilities became part of a larger review nationwide into the department’s health care practices. Shinseki made combating homelessness among veterans a priority during his tenure as head of the department.
The Senate earlier this week confirmed Robert McDonald as Shinseki’s replacement.