U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke on Saturday will bring officials with the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to a homeless shelter with which the department last year terminated its contract, forcing it to lose most of its funding.
Casa Vida de Salud at 3501 Hueco will be the site of O'Rourke's first quarterly town hall meeting for veterans. It will run from noon until 1 p.m.
On hand to answer questions will be El Paso Veterans Administrator John Mendoza, Benefits Administrator Rodney Thompson and other VA staff. O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said he hopes for a large audience because his first town hall meeting last month for all constituents was dominated by veterans' concerns.
"Sixty to 70 percent of the questions were veterans questions," O'Rourke said. He added that the number of questions told him there are problems with the way the vast federal department delivers services.
Some of the questions are sure to pertain to the way the department ended its contract last year with Casa Vida, causing it to lose more than $1 million in grants to house as many as 90 homeless veterans.
Casa Vida continues to operate as a facility of the Recovery Alliance of El Paso, which helps people struggling with substance abuse, and it provides what shelter it can for the homeless, program manager Mario Mendoza said Wednesday.
The VA ended its contract after first encouraging the Alliance to move from a smaller building on Welch Avenue to Casa Vida and expanding its services, the Times reported last year.
The city granted the facility hotel and restaurant permits and vouched for the safety of the building, but the VA cited it for many violations. Ben Bass, CEO of the Recovery Alliance, said VA officials would not clearly say what needed to be done to fix problems.
Since losing its VA contract and related money, Casa Vida has had to temporarily scrap its plans to be a veterans-only homeless shelter, Mendoza said. That leaves a Socorro facility operated by Aliviane Inc. as the county's sole veterans-only shelter, he said.
O'Rourke made improving veterans' services a centerpiece of his campaign last year when he defeated a fellow Democrat, incumbent U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, in the primary and then defeated Republican Barbara Carrasco. Since taking office, he said, he's been trying to find out what Casa Vida needs to do to satisfy the VA.
"Trying to get to the bottom of it has been difficult," O'Rourke said. "The VA has not been very transparent about this."
A call to the VA's press office in Washington, D.C., went unanswered Wednesday.
O'Rourke said he would use the power of his office to get answers: "We're making a formal inquiry on the federal level."
Marty Schladen may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6127.