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Van Takes the High (Tech) Road to Help Homeless Veterans
VA Florida Homeless Veteran Coordinator Kevin O'Donnell, Florida Congresswoman Ilena Ross-Lehtinen, Volunteers of America President Kathryn E. Spearman, and Miami VA Medical Center Homeless Coordinator Dan Robbin.

A new VA medical and benefits service center on wheels is traveling the roads of Florida, providing immediate assistance to homeless veterans throughout the state.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Volunteers of America of Florida, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless, teamed up to launch the Florida Veterans Mobile Service Center, a 43-foot mobile medical/dental clinic and veterans benefits office. In addition to a fully equipped dental clinic and medical exam room, the vehicle also has bathroom and shower facilities, a microwave, refrigerator and a wheelchair lift.

The vehicle and a staff car travel caravan-style taking eight to ten VA counselors and volunteers to areas where the homeless gather. They set up a tent offering food and clothing, as well as portable showers and toilets that hook up to the vehicle’s generators.

Four cellular phone connections, two satellite links, two laptop computers and a color printer link the counselors with the state’s VA medical centers and benefits office, allowing them to access the veterans’ records and medical histories. Video-conferencing equipment allows VA physicians to interview patients directly from the mobile unit.

The counselors and volunteers began their maiden voyage in the Florida Keys, and are working their way up the state. After identifying areas where the homeless congregate, they stay at each encampment two or three days in an effort to gain the veterans’ trust.

The project was funded in part through a grant to the Volunteers of America of Florida from the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program. Veterans service organizations throughout Florida also donated funds to help purchase the $311,000 vehicle, and will continue to help with operating costs.

The goal is to reach a segment of the veteran population that generally won’t come to a VA facility, because they either don’t trust the government or can’t travel long distances. One of every three homeless adults is likely to be a veteran and Florida’s homeless veteran population is estimated to be between 17,000 and 23,000. The VA Mobile Service Center is expected to serve more than 200 veterans a month.