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Salt Lake Veterans Affairs Denied Vets With Substance Abuse Issues, Housing Authority Says

Photo of VA sign.
Renee Bright / KUER
The Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs campus is home to services for Utah's veterans, including the Valor House, designed to curb chronic veteran homelessness.

Homeless veterans struggling with substance abuse in Utah may have been kept out of a transitional housing complex on the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs campus, according to allegations from the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City.

The 72-unit Valor House, which is run jointly by the VA and Housing Authority, was designed to help end chronic veteran homelessness. But according to officials from the federally funded housing agency, the property had a 30 percent vacancy rate on average for the past three years.

Salt Lake City is facing an ongoing crisis of homelessness. The Housing Authority estimates the vacancy rate translated to nearly 11,000 nights when beds were not filled to date.

“We have veterans on the streets while we have empty beds sitting at the Valor House,” said Zac Pau’u, Deputy Director of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City.

Pau’u said regulatory barriers under the VA’s oversight screened out difficult to treat vets suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. He also said that VA staff pay rates and promotions were tied to moving veterans through their facility, creating incentives to focus on vets with simpler needs than substance abuse issues.

A Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs spokesman denied that veterans were screened out of getting services. In a statement, the spokesman said the Housing Authority was creating “blatant misrepresentation of the truth and false allegations regarding the care of our Veterans.”

Since the dispute, officials at the Housing Authority have changed the staffing at Valor House to bring in new staff from the First Step House, a Salt Lake City addiction recovery organization.

According to a statement from the Housing Authority, they expect Valor House to be filled to capacity by February.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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