On August 31, 2015, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released guidance on its HMIS "read only" and "direct data access" for VA staff. As a follow up, the VA recently released guidance providing VA staff with the legal authority to share information necessary to coordinate referrals and services with community partners.
This recent guidance will also assist communities in developing and managing a local master list or “By Name List” (BNL). The master list is a tool designed to facilitate access to housing by homeless veterans and by documenting an end to veteran homelessness in accordance with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) guidance. The master list is generally populated through information obtained from outreach, shelters, and any providers in the community that work with veterans experiencing homelessness along with key database systems: the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and the Homeless Operations Management and Evaluation System (HOMES; the VA data collection system).
The VA and community partners work collaboratively to establish and maintain the master list, which includes sharing information on veterans already on the list, on those that should be added, or those that should be removed from the master list.
Privacy guidelines include the following:
- If a veteran is homeless, Routine Use #40 and HIPAA 45 CFR 164.512(j) provides the authority to disclose pertinent information on the veteran related to obtaining housing and related services, such as the veteran’s homelessness status, without a signed authorization.
- If the veteran is known to not be homeless, Routine Use #5 and HIPAA45 CFR 164.510(b) provides authority to disclose pertinent information on the veteran related to obtaining housing and related services, such as the veteran’s homeless status, to a community partner aware of and intending to provide services to the veteran (i.e., being on the BNL is evidence of the community partner’s awareness of the veteran), but:
- If the veteran is present, they must be given the opportunity to object to the disclosure, or
- If the veteran is not present, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) may use its professional judgement to determine if the veteran would object and could make the disclosure based on that judgement.
- Regardless of whether the veteran is homeless, the disclosure of protected information covered under 38 U.S.C. 7332 requires a signed, written authorization from the veteran.