Thursday, November 15, 2007

Study: At Least 1,500 OEF/OIF Veterans Homeless

This is news that broke last week, which I'm only having a chance to add now for future reference. From The Times:

A study published last week shows that US military veterans make up one in four homeless people in America, even though they represent just 11 per cent of the general adult population, and younger soldiers are already trickling into shelters and soup kitchens after completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless, at least 1,500 ex-servicemen from the present wars have already been identified.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. Data from 2005 estimated that 194,254 homeless people on any given night were veterans.

Full report [pdf], two-page OEF/OIF snapshot [pdf].

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

CNN's Situation Room talks with Sen. Jim Webb about the problems facing returning veterans, including homelessness:

In the interest of education, article quoted from extensively.

From the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

We analyzed data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau to examine homelessness and severe housing cost burden among veterans. This report includes the following findings:

  • In 2006, approximately 195,827 veterans were homeless on a given night—an increase of 0.8 percent from 194,254 in 2005. More veterans experience homeless over the course of the year. We estimate that 336,627 were homeless in 2006.
  • Veterans make up a disproportionate share of homeless people. They represent roughly 26 percent of homeless people, but only 11 percent of the civilian population 18 years and older. This is true despite the fact that veterans are better educated, more likely to be employed, and have a lower poverty rate than the general population.
  • A number of states, including Louisiana and California, had high rates of homeless veterans. In addition, the District of Columbia had a high rate of homelessness among veterans with approximately 7.5 percent of veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • We estimate that in 2005 approximately 44,000 to 64,000 veterans were chronically homeless (i.e., homeless for long periods or repeatedly and with a disability).

Lack of affordable housing is the primary driver of homelessness. The 23.4 million U.S. veterans generally do not have trouble affording housing costs; veterans have high rates of home ownership and appear generally well housed. However, there is a subset of veterans who have severe housing cost burden.

  • We estimate that nearly half a million (467,877) veterans were severely rent burdened and were paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent.
  • More than half (55 percent) of veterans with severe housing cost burden fell below the poverty level and 43 percent were receiving foods stamps.
  • Rhode Island, California, Nevada, and Hawaii were the states with the highest percentage of veterans with severe housing cost burden. The District of Columbia had the highest rate, with 6.4 percent of veterans paying more than 50 percent of their income toward rent.
  • Female veterans, those with a disability, and unmarried or separated veterans were more likely to experience severe housing cost burden. There are also differences by period of service, with those serving during the Korean War and WWII more likely to have severe housing cost burden.
  • We estimate that approximately 89,553 to 467,877 veterans were at risk of homelessness. At risk is defined as being below the poverty level and paying more than 50 percent of household income on rent. It also includes households with a member who has a disability, a person living alone, and those who are not in the labor force.

These findings highlight the need to expand homeless prevention and affordable housing programs targeted at veterans. Further the findings demonstrate that ending homelessness among veterans is a vital mission that requires the immediate attention of policymakers.

VoteVets' Jon Soltz reflects on the news:

There are a number of wonderful groups doing all they can to find these veterans and get them into housing. But that's not enough. The real point to this tragedy is buried in the AP story:

"The Iraq vets seeking help with homelessness are more likely to be women, less likely to have substance abuse problems, but more likely to have mental illness - mostly related to post-traumatic stress, said Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at the VA."

The VA finds that, overall, 45 percent of participants in the VA's homeless programs have a diagnosable mental illness. We know from previous studies that greater than 30 percent of Iraq veterans coming home have some PTSD. Those studies were done before third deployments and 15 month extensions. And, remember, sometimes PTSD takes years for manifest itself. So bank on the number with PTSD being higher by war's end and in years after.

And yet, the process for mental screening is deficient, as are the number of qualified people within the DoD and VA health systems to diagnose and treat PTSD. This doesn't even address the severe VA underfunding that simply keeps veterans from getting the care they need.

It was just reported this month that two VA hospitals in Florida were turning veterans away, because they couldn't deal with the load. The money crunch, as well, has the agency pinching pennies and setting the bar for PTSD, and full disability, very high. I had a soldier call me last year requesting a memorandum from an eyewitness officer from Iraq that could validate the soldier had in fact been in combat, despite the fact that the army had already concluded that this soldier was suffering from PTSD! These are the hurdles that are set up.

So, here's how it goes. A veteran goes to the VA, if they can get in, because something is just not right in their mind. Instead of PTSD, they're told they have "adjustment disorder" or a preexisting mental condition, neither of which allows them to collect disability. They don't get the right treatment, allowing their mental condition to worsen. They simply cannot hold down a job, they don't get disability, and, not surprisingly, they cannot afford a place to live and become homeless.

There is no blood test that can tell if you have PTSD. It's not a simple injury to find -- an injury to your psyche. And, until this administration gets serious about greater funding and a real strategy to deal with this coming tsunami, it doesn't matter how many wonderful charitable groups are out there, trying to find and house homeless veterans, because we'll just be dealing with the result -- homelessness -- rather than the root cause - PTSD.

Oh, and by the way, the president is vowing to veto the Labor-HHS bill which includes $3.4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provides mental health and suicide prevention services, and $23.6 million for the military veterans that comprise a quarter of America's homeless population in the Homeless Veterans Program.

The alarm is blaring, but who is listening?

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