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VA Secretary touts agency's homeless strategy, outreach to women in San Diego visit

The head of Veterans Affairs was in San Diego on Wednesday. KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says he touted the VA’s homeless strategy and outreach to women.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough visited San Diego on Wednesday to tour the San Diego VA Medical Center and meet with veterans in Oceanside and San Marcos.

The hospital is being renamed for Capt. Jennifer Moreno. A local combat vet who died in 2013. Though a powerful symbol, McDonough acknowledged to reporters that women veterans don’t always feel comfortable accessing VA health care.

“I think too often that, unfortunately, there have been experiences where women veterans, highly decorated, come to get their care at the VA and somebody approaches them and says, 'Hey, are you here with your dad or your husband. Are you here with your boyfriend?' That's dated thinking,” he said.


He added San Diego has among the highest percentages of women vets in the country. The VA made a commitment to end homelessness among veterans, though veterans remain on the streets in southern California.

“Obviously, we’re intensely focused on the problem in southern California, because of the salience of the issue here. We have a proven strategy to get vets into housing. It’s called housing first,” he said.

The strategy is to find housing for veterans before tackling other problems, such as health issues or addiction. He said the number is coming down nationally to roughly 40,000 homeless veterans nationwide, though the problem persists in southern California, where the lack of available housing is a problem.

McDonough was asked to come to San Diego by Rep. Mike Levin. The two met behind closed doors with local veterans advocates before touring Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.