Federal investigators expressed concerns Monday for the safety of some female veterans who rely on homeless shelters after inspections showed women housed in shelters approved only for men.
The inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs said that nearly a third of the 26 locations reviewed did not adequately address security risks, which included female and male residents on the same floor, and bedrooms and bathrooms with insufficient locks. The report will be the focus of a hearing Wednesday by the Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Investigators looked at only a small sample of the facilities participating in a program that received $217 million in the 2011 budget year _ more than double the amount from four years earlier.
Auditors found that women were housed in some shelters simply because VA medical staff had been unaware the facilities were approved for males only. Those contractors receiving grant money did not specify in their applications the gender of homeless veterans who would be served. Also, the VA's medical staff did not review some of the security issues during annual reviews because they were not part of the inspection checklist.
Investigators with the IG's office found a variety of safety concerns:
_Twenty-two women were placed in a facility approved for men only going back to 2002. The female residents shared bathrooms with the male residents without secure locks and shared the same living floor without adequate barriers to the female bedrooms. Medical records indicated that some of the women had histories of sexual trauma and domestic violence before being placed there, while some of the male veterans were assessed as having drug and alcohol problems as well as criminal histories such as assault and attempted homicide.
_ One homeless female vet and her 18-month-old son were placed in the same facility as a male veteran who was a registered sex offender. The female veteran and her son lived on a separate floor and had a locked bedroom. A program coordinator acknowledged he did not verify the sex offender's history before placing him in the facility.
_Six female veterans were living on the same floor as 32 men in one facility. Some of the women told investigators they were concerned about their safety.
The inspector general made numerous recommendations to improve security at the homeless centers, including more unannounced inspections and revising applications to ensure that providers clearly state the gender of the people being served.
In a written response to the audit, VA officials said they concurred with its recommendations and had already taken steps to address some of the problems identified.
"(The agency) takes the welfare and safety of our homeless veterans population very seriously," said Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration.