Source: The United States of America, rich in the abundance of opportunity, resources, and freedoms, defended by men and women in uniform. Unfortunately, some of them find themselves left with nowhere else to go but on the streets. How do we tackle Veteran Homelessness? And why are there so many Vets left out in the cold after serving our great nation? Samuel K. Burlum reports...
To have a complete understanding of Veteran Homelessness, one has to have access to the facts. Veteran homelessness is not a new problem, however the issue of Veterans finding themselves on the streets has been a growing concern due to the vast number of Veterans that are left in the cold on a regular basis.
A recent study published with the support of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and US Department of Veteran Affairs revealed that there are well over 37,800 Veterans who are without a place to live every night. Veterans that served in Vietnam and those that returned from Iraq/Afghanistan make up the majority of the homeless Veteran populations living on the street.
Many Homeless Veterans that served in Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan have a common denominator in that they suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Eager to find coping mechanisms for their PTSD, many have turned to alcohol abuse, substance abuse, opioid abuse, gambling, and other addictions to conceal or cover up their emotions tied to traumatic experiences while serving in combat.
Another common factor that has been clinically found among Veterans as a result of their activities in the field of combat includes a high rate of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In parallel, opioid addiction is found to be ten times higher among those who served over other homeless populations.
It has also been found that women Veterans that have faced traumas associated with sexual assault, torture, and rape, face a higher rate of homelessness and hopelessness due to the lack of services and counseling afforded to them.
When one does the math, the numbers are scary.
Over 23% of the homeless population is comprised of Veterans. 47% of homeless Veterans served in Vietnam. 67% of homeless Veterans served three or more years in the military. 85% of homeless Veterans have completed high school and/or GED equivalent. What is most shocking is that 89% of homeless Veterans have received an Honorable Discharge. 79% of homeless Vets find refuge in urban areas. A staggering 76% of homeless Veterans struggle with alcohol, drug, or mental health problems.
One would think that the US Department of Veteran Affairs would be doing more in the areas of mental health care and Veteran homelessness given the stats, however it is by no surprise that it is community non-profit organizations that are taking lead to help Veterans and their families in need.
A number of community non-profit groups have assisted homeless Veterans during their time of need, usually funded and supported by businesses and private citizens that understand the depth of scope of this national problem.
In New Jersey alone, it is estimated there are over 6,000 homeless Veterans living on the streets of the Garden State. What is even more worrisome is the number of Veterans and their families which are on the verge of homelessness due to a series of factors including: health care costs, cost of living, and lack of job opportunities that align with the skill sets of the Veteran’s military service background.
There are little or no resources available for Veterans who find themselves facing a cliff. Usually, most programs and resources are reserved for Veterans who have already lost their home, their job, and their ability to function.
Another issue is reaching the homeless Veteran population. Many homeless Veterans will hide, in shame and embarrassment of their issues, and usually will lose contact with members of their family, friends and fellow colleagues in which they served with. In order to reach homeless Veterans, one must turn to the very streets that shelter them, earn their trust, and begin to address the cause of the homelessness at the root of the problem.
So how can each us play a role in the fight against Veteran homelessness?
We can take a moment to donate to one of the community non-profit organizations that seek out homeless Veterans and provide them with services and needs.
Donating money is just one type of donation that can be offered. Some Veteran focused non-profit organizations host drives and collections for necessities, such as a backpack drive for homeless veterans, where backpacks are handed out to homeless warriors in need, full of personal hygiene and grooming products, blankets, and warm and dry clothes.
One can donate their time to help prepare and serve meals to homeless Veterans at a church kitchen or community center that serves the needs of the homeless.
We should all be demanding higher accountability and standards by the VA when they are assisting Veterans in their transition from the Military back to civilian life. Unfortunately many Veterans have complained about the long waits at the VA just to speak with a counselor or representative. In order to express your concerns with the VA, it is important to inform your local legislative representative of these issues.