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The Boston Globe

Nation

Major hurdles remain to end veteran homelessness

Billions more in funds needed

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Arthur Lute’s arduous journey from his days as a Marine to his nights sleeping on the streets illustrates the challenge for the Obama administration to fulfill its promise to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.

Lute has post-traumatic stress disorder from the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. He spent years drifting through jobs, two years in prison for assault, then 15 months sleeping in the bushes outside the police department of this city south of San Diego.

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Today, he lives in a $1,235-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in a working-class neighborhood.

The federal government pays nearly 80 percent of the rent and mostly covers the cost of medicines for his depression, high blood pressure, and other health problems. State-funded programs pay for doctor’s appointments for his 6-month-old son and therapy for his wife, who he said is bipolar.

Lute receives a Social Security check and food stamps. A Department of Veterans Affairs case manager communicates with him regularly and helps avert crises, like when Lute’s electric bill jumped in an August heat wave and he couldn’t afford diapers.

An upcoming report is expected to show the number of homeless veterans has dropped by at least 15,000 since 2009, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said, and the drop is the result of an aggressive two-pronged strategy to not only take veterans off the street but also prevent more from ending up there.

But Shinseki made a bold promise in 2009: The administration would end homelessness among veterans by 2015. The former four-star general says now they’re ‘‘on target’’ to meet the goal.

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Officials and outside experts said it would take:

 More than doubling of the current, record annual progress

 Billions more in federal money

 More improvements and long-term commitment to programs aimed at the root issues that land people on the streets — mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, poverty.

The nation marked Veterans Day on Sunday, paying tribute to its members of the armed services Sunday.

President Obama laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and noted that this is the first Veterans Day in a decade with no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq, and that a decade of war in Afghanistan is coming to a close.

In a speech at the Memorial Amphitheater, he said America will never forget the sacrifice made by its veterans and their families. ‘‘No ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service,’’ the president said.

Of the country’s 22 million veterans, an estimated 75,609 were homeless in 2009 when Shinseki announced the campaign. Veterans make up 14 percent of the US homeless population.

The number of homeless veterans dropped 12 percent between 2010 and 2011 to 67,497. It’s expected to fall below 60,000 when this year’s count is released in the coming weeks, Shinseki says.

Rare bipartisanship in Washington is part of the reason. Political consensus among lawmakers and in the administration to do everything possible for troops and veterans has meant a huge increase in the budget for VA health care and other services to the homeless, from $3.6 billion in the 2010 budget year to the proposed $5.8 billion for 2013.

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