Resolving the Problems of Homeless Veterans
It is estimated that at least 500,000 individuals are experiencing homelessness across the United States. And veterans are more vulnerable to homelessness than the general population. Veterans make up around 6% of U.S. residents but 8% of the homeless. The main factors contributing to homelessness in the veteran population include substance use disorders (SUDs) and severe mental illness.
Although veteran homelessness may seem like an overwhelming problem without an easy solution, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) strives to assist the ever-increasing numbers of veterans experiencing homelessness. However, the VA struggles to keep up. Read on to learn about the risks and causes of homelessness among veterans as well as various programs that offer assistance to those in need.
Understanding Veteran Homelessness
A person experiencing homelessness lacks a fixed, regular, and sufficient nighttime residence. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate, and neither does it exempt the veteran population. Veterans encounter unique challenges, especially when it comes to getting safe, affordable, stable housing. Not only do veterans have to navigate the competitive housing market, but they also face extended and multiple deployments, economic hardships, and at times, mental illnesses that hinder their ability to get the help they need. Veterans returning from deployments in Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, often face the invisible war wounds that include PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, both of which contribute to homelessness.
Risk Factors and Causes of Veteran Homelessness
In many ways, veterans are at a higher risk of becoming homeless than other individuals due to factors unique to this group. Here are the common causes of homelessness among veterans.
Lack of Social Support Networks and Immediate Family
Everyone needs social connections to live a fulfilling life. War veterans become familiar with military social support networks that provide them with the necessary resources during service. However, many of them do not have such support networks after leaving the military, and without them, some might lack social connections and family to lean on during times of need. Veterans may struggle to develop support networks in the civilian world, leading to isolation, social anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Veterans move from structured environments to less organized civilian communities when they leave the military. That makes them fully responsible for managing their responsibilities, time, and mental health issues. This transition can lead to extreme stress levels and may significantly affect a veteran’s capacity to handle the transition process.
Lack of Professional Networks and Transferrable Work Experience
Although service members have opportunities to obtain degrees while on active military duty, most of the training they gain in the armed services doesn’t transfer to job requirements for the civilian workforce. There, military training and experience aren’t always valued. Even with their transferrable experience, many veterans often lack the social and professional networks that civilians use to secure employment opportunities. Since the U.S. labor market is quite competitive, veterans usually find themselves disadvantaged when securing employment without reliable networks and transferrable work experience.
Mental Health Challenges and Substance Abuse
Many veterans experience traumatizing events while on active duty, and these events can follow them into their civilian lives. These traumatic experiences can lead to drug and alcohol use, PTSD, and other mental health issues. Veterans suffering from mental health challenges and substance use disorder may struggle to get stable housing. They also have difficulties finding and maintaining jobs. According to the VA, challenges such as mental illness and substance-related disorders are the main contributors to homelessness among veterans after discharge from active military duty.
Difficulties Navigating Complex Benefits Systems
Many veterans find dealing with complex systems like healthcare and Social Security challenging after they exit military service. Many look to the VA for support once they transition into civilian life. The stress that comes with the transition can accumulate as veterans try to navigate the benefits systems, which sometimes compromise their access to stable housing and healthcare.
Lack of a Livable Income and Affordable Housing
Extremely low-income renters usually face shortages of affordable housing across the country. Homeless veterans in different states cite a lack of local rental history, credit, or affordable housing as the common barriers to getting housing. The low minimum wage and high cost of living in some places make it even more challenging for veterans to find affordable homes and earn enough to cover their expenses.
How Substance Use Contributes to Veterans’ Homelessness
Many veterans often struggle to get the mental health care they need when they return to civilian life, leading to homelessness. Substance use and addiction are major contributors to homelessness among the veteran population. A recent VA report indicates that there were approximately 37,252 homeless veterans in January 2020. This number shows a 50% decrease in homeless veterans since 2009.
Traumatic events can trigger substance use, often leading to substance use disorders and addiction. Veterans who’ve witnessed combat may have co-occurring mental disorders like PTSD in addition to as SUD or addiction. Substance use in veterans can be linked to different risk elements specific to the military environment, like reintegration challenges after active duty, combat exposure, and multiple military deployments.
Research indicates that about 10% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who are seen by the VA have a problem with alcohol or another drug. Many who suffer from SUDs and addiction have co-occurring PTSD, mainly triggered by witnessing tragic incidents. As a result, many veterans turn to substance use to manage their PTSD symptoms. A substance use disorder often leads to recurring compulsive behavior, which can negatively impact an individual’s whole life. For instance, it can make it difficult to keep up with work responsibilities, interpersonal relationships, and money management. SUDs can easily lead to veterans losing their homes.
According to several studies, substance use is one of the most significant risk factors for homelessness among veterans. Mental health disorders and PTSD are also strong factors in veterans becoming homeless. Veterans with PTSD are more likely to use drugs to numb their pain. Research also indicates a strong connection between mental disorders and SUDs, which can explain why veterans experiencing homelessness often exhibit both of these.
Fortunately, veterans looking for addiction treatment in the United States have more options than civilians. In addition to private outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation programs, veterans have unique opportunities to seek treatment for their mental health illnesses and substance use via the VA. The VA health network assists veterans who are experiencing problems finding affordable treatment options on their own.
Seeking treatment for co-occurring mental health illnesses and substance use via co-occurring disorder treatment programs will help veterans find their path to recovery. If you have co-occurring mental disorders, it’s important to know that it’s possible to get simultaneous treatment for substance abuse and PTSD. If you are enrolled in the VA healthcare program, integrated treatment programs for substance use disorders, drug addiction, and mental health disorders are normally covered by Veteran Affairs benefits. Other government programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as private insurance also cover this kind of treatment.
Facts and Statistics About Veteran Homelessness
As mentioned earlier, veterans are at an increased risk of becoming homeless than non-veterans. Here are some facts and statistics that indicate the extent of the veteran homelessness issue:
• In 2020, there were around 37,252 homeless veterans.
• About 98% of homeless vets have a recurring pattern of homelessness.
• Temporary shelters housed 59% of homeless veterans in 2020.
• About 91% of homeless veterans are men.
• California has the highest percentage of homeless veterans in the country.
• Seven out of 10 homeless veterans are located in California, Oregon, New Mexico, and Georgia.
Programs and Resources for Homeless Veterans
Many programs provide homeless veterans with assistance and support. The VA has programs that annually serve many homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness. Through these specialized programs, the VA provides veterans with employment opportunities, housing solutions, and healthcare both independently and in conjunction with community and federal partners. Here are some VA programs and grants available for homeless and at-risk veterans.
HUD-VASH Supportive Housing
This program is a collaborative effort between VA supportive services and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It helps homeless veterans and their families obtain and maintain permanent housing.
Homeless Providers Grant and Pier Diem Program (GDP)
State and local governments and nonprofit organizations receive per diem payments and capital grants to create and operate service centers and transitional housing for homeless veterans.
Homeless Veteran Community Employment Services (HVCES)
Every VA medical center under this program receives funding to employ vocational development experts who serve as community employment coordinators to boost employment results for homeless veterans or those at risk of homelessness.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF)
This program provides support and case management services to extremely low-income veterans to prevent the imminent loss of their homes or find new and more suitable housing for individuals and their families. SSVF also quickly finds new housing for those who do lose their homes.
Community Resource and Referral Centers (CRRCs)
This program provides homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless with access to multi-agency and community-based services to boost placements in permanent housing, assistance with career development, and access to mental health care. CRRCs also provide homeless veterans with access to non-VA as well as VA benefits.
Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans Program (DCHV)
This program covers residential care for unsheltered and sheltered veterans with rehabilitative care needs, multiple illnesses, and other challenges. It offers a structured setting that promotes veterans’ mutual support and independence.
VA Vet Centers
Vet centers under the VA are community-based outlets offering various outreach, referral, and counseling services to veterans and their families. They guide these individuals through most major of the adjustments veterans face when returning from combat. Services offered at these centers may include group and individual counseling in different areas like drug and alcohol assessment, suicide prevention, and PTSD.
How You Can Assist Homeless Veterans
There are unlimited opportunities for addressing homelessness among veterans and helping homeless veterans, either as a member of a group or as an individual. You can help by focusing your efforts on supporting homeless veteran service providers in your community. Becoming an advocate to ensure veterans get an appropriate share of the available resources can also help address homelessness in your local area. Some of the ways you can get involved in preventing veteran homelessness include:
• Supporting emergency shelters
• Donating supplies to outreach programs and homeless shelters
• Volunteering as a legal aide, mentor, or counselor
• Volunteering at VA stand-down programs
• Attending or hosting fundraisers
Seek Help Today
Homelessness among the veteran population is an ongoing problem without an easy solution. As extensive research has shown, SUDs and mental health struggles are the main contributing factors to veteran homelessness. Risk factors may vary, but services and support should be customized to those challenges. Although housing is important, it’s insufficient without addressing behavioral health, physical health, education and employment, and other social support systems. Offering treatment and support for struggling veterans can help mitigate the risks of experiencing homelessness. The stigma of being without a home is an unwarranted burden for veterans who have lost their housing. Therefore, it’s important to consider the needs of veterans comprehensively.
Even though homelessness for veterans is currently showing a downward trend, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Services should be made available, affordable, and accessible throughout the lives of veterans. One of the first steps in reducing homelessness among the veteran population is helping veterans struggling with substance abuse or mental health challenges to find proper treatment. VeteransRehab.org provides free addiction treatment and mental health resources to veterans in need. If you or a veteran you know is struggling with substance use disorders or mental health illness, reach out to us now. Our team can answer all your questions and provide you with a better understanding of the programs and resources available to you.