Walking the streets late at night or strolling at the mall, as the traffic dies down to a snails’ pace inside the big city sidewalks, one can hear the echoes in their minds of the gunfire and the shouts of pain and agony that war has brought to many of our soldiers. These memories of war are a reality for the uncounted masses of human beings, which gave their lives for this country and faded away once their tour was done. Someone asked me one day why I care so much about the mentally ill and homeless and I thought about it for a moment and said “because they are my brothers and sisters in arms but forgotten.” The difficulties experienced once they returned to civilian lives have brought them much pain and sorrow as well as their families.
The actual number of homeless veterans will never be fully revealed as it is so hard to track them down all around the country as they are nomads sleeping in alleys, in parks, in boxes, abandoned cars, in the woods, or other places where they can conceal themselves from society. One must remember that when you define a homeless veteran and he or she is incarcerated, they are not included in the homeless count but no doubt belong to that group before they were put into jails or prisons for being what the social order is considering a high risk to communities and society. “In the [United] States it was particularly high because of the Vietnam War. They had 65 percent of their veterans in prison over 55, whereas in England and Wales it was 29 per cent. That was still much higher than the general prison population, where those aged 50 or over make up about 9 per cent.” People were likely to be incarcerated some ten years after leaving the forces in both countries, and that figure appears to broadly align itself with the estimated ‘incubation period’ for symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Forces charity Combat Stress estimate that it takes an average of 14 years for veterans to recognize their symptoms and seek help.
Veterans become homeless & are at risk for homelessness for the same reasons as non-veterans, including due to the rising foreclosure* and unemployment rates, as well as due to veteran specific issues. Mental Health issues (e.g., PTSD, mood disorders & substance use) have been deemed among the primary risks for homelessness among veterans. The effects of PTSD, including addiction, interpersonal problems & job loss, were also associated with homelessness. The effects of combat exposure do not disappear as the years go by. Because so many of these homeless vets become disoriented and confused while trying to cope with the re-settlement of their families and jobs, many become unstable and created terrible situations that often results in being arrested or incarcerated for offenses quite often misunderstood.
Recent studies reveal that 10% of Vietnam veterans still suffer from severe PTSD symptoms & that their combat exposure continues to place them at risk for negative social & psychological consequences. The list of wars fought or campaigns engaged into range from WW II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Desert Storm & the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Tracking Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, of the Operation Iraqi 300 vets who returned from serving in Iraq & Afghanistan sought assistance for homelessness between 2004 & 2006. To date, approximately 2,000 & veterans have sought assistance from the DVA homeless programs. In May 2008 U.S. Medicine reported that at least 1,500 OIF/OEF vets are homeless & many expect the number to continue to rise.
Here is the most shocking fact revealed: vets are becoming homeless sooner after their return from combat than seen in previous wars. They often have no place to live within 18 months after coming home, compared to the 10 years on average it took for Vietnam vets. The Niche’s Iraq Veteran Project & others have reported that OIF/OEF vets are in serious danger for homelessness & chronic homelessness.
One source reported that in 2007 the DVA had identified more than 1,000 OIF/OEF at risk veterans. In addition to the veteran homelessness risk factors noted above, they identified the following reasons for this. Not counting those in prison which we will try to count later, there are 1 out of 3 veterans in this country that are homeless veterans. They represent 11 % of civilization as we know it and every night, somewhere between 154,000 and 300, 000 veterans are homeless at some time during the year. The count goes even higher to 500,000 to 840,000 veterans that are homeless during some time of the year. Just from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone, they make up 1.8 % of the homeless veterans population. In 2008, 44 % reported to be homeless for the first time. According to the Veterans Administration, the number of homeless Vietnam era veterans far exceeds the number of fatalities the war took from our families and friends. Looking at the veterans’ profile there are some very interesting points that pop out there
Males account for 97-98% of the homeless veteran population
56% are African American or Hispanic
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems (Inc PTSD)
45% suffer from mental illness
50% have substance abuse problems
More than 67% served our country for at least three years
33% were stationed in a war zone
47% of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era
17% served after the Vietnam era
15% served before Vietnam
36.9% received mental health diagnoses
29% received 2 different diagnoses
33% received 3 or more diagnoses
Of the nearly 37% 21.8% were diagnosed with
PTSD, 17.4% with depression, 7% with alcohol
use disorder, & 3% with drug use disorder
Men were at twice the risk for drug use than women
Active duty vets under 25 had higher rates of PTSD,
alcohol & drug use disorder than those vets over 40
43% received diagnoses when mental health disorders &
psychosocial problems such as homelessness were included
14.6% of the vets who came in from January to March of 2004
were diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Almost 28%
of these same vets received diagnoses in 2008.
Females in our armed forces make up 14-15 % of the U.S. active-duty force and 14% of veterans. Almost 41,000 women were deployed during the Gulf War, more than 230,000 women of the U.S. military have served in & deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan making up 11% of veterans and almost one-half all active duty women, including reservists, have deployed to the current conflicts since 2001. According to Swords to Plowshares “the total number of women who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters is more than double Operation Desert Storm and Vietnam combined.” More than 100 female service members have died and close to 600 women have been wounded. Approximately 40% of active duty women have children and 11% are single mothers.
6,500 – 7,000 female war veterans in the US are homeless. This is double the number of a decade ago.
One in 10 (~ 9%) of homeless vets under the age of 45 is female
There are twice as many homeless female vets under 45 years old than over 45
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV