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In the Midst of VA Scandal, White House Pitches Plan to End Vet Homelessness in Less than Two Years

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 04: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama announces the creation of the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness with (L-R) Veterans Affairs acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and formerly homeless veteran Chris Fuentes of Philadelphia in the East Room of the White House June 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Marshalling federal, local and non-profit efforts, the mayors challenge aims to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The number of homeless veterans has declined by 24 percent over the past three years, according to the White House, but first lady Michelle Obama says that number can be zero by the end 2015 if the nation's cities take action.

First lady Michelle Obama announces the creation of the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness at the White House, June 4, 2014. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)

The Obama administration has been under fire for the Department of Veterans Affairs waiting list scandal that led last week to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and is suspected to have played a role in the deaths of 40 veterans waiting for care they never received.

The first lady, a longtime advocate on veterans issues, spoke to municipal officials Wednesday at the White House about the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. She said homeless veterans only make up 0.3 percent of the veteran population, but that it's still a problem.

"Too many of them have come home only to fight a new battle -– a battle to keep a roof over their head, a battle just to have somewhere to go when it rains," she said of armed service members. “The fact that we have 58,000 homeless veterans is a moral outrage. We should all be horrified.”

So far, 77 mayors, 4 governors and 4 county officials have enlisted in the effort, Obama said.

“They know their communities inside and out and just how to address this for their cities and states,” Obama said. “They are going to end it and do it by 2015. This is an audacious goal.”

The first lady said this can be accomplished at the local level if there is a national network for targeting federal, state, local and nonprofit resources.

For example, she said the city of New Orleans has 211 homeless veterans, while Indianapolis has 11, a manageable population for municipalities to provide housing opportunities to.

Interestingly, the city of Phoenix has eliminated chronic homelessness among its veteran population, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Phoenix was the first VA medical facility to gain widespread attention for a severe waiting list problem and had 1,700  veterans improperly taken off the books according to an inspector general report.

Salt Lake City, Utah, has also managed to get housing for every homeless veteran in the city through mostly local efforts.

VA and HUD will be the chief departments working with the local governments.

The VA's Supportive Services for Veterans Families program will provide shorter-term rental subsidies for homeless veterans, under the plan.

The new initiative will also remove “unnecessary prerequisites” for obtaining housing according to the White House. It will prioritize the most vulnerable veterans for permanent housing opportunities though HUD; coordinate outreach at the federal and local level; and leverage local and private sector funding for veterans not eligible for federal aid from the VA or HUD; and monitor at-risk veterans.

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