The Issue Of Veteran Homelessness

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Every day, men and women join the U.S. military forces to fight for our freedom and the availability to live our lives in the manner that we do. But, what happens when they retire from the military and return back to civilian life? The assumption is that this transition will be easy for them. That they will have a home to return to and unlimited possibilities when it comes to their future careers. However, this is not the whole truth. Instead of a home to return to and a job ready to put them to work, a large amount of the Veteran population is left homeless and without consistent resources to help them get back on their feet. This issue is shown in “Homelessness in America: Focus on Veterans”, written by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. They explain that 9% of the entire homeless population is made up of our U.S. military Veterans. It is further suggested that roughly 40,056 Veterans are experiencing homelessness every single day. Although it is said that “two-thirds (24,690) were staying in shelters or transitional housing programs”, the other one-third are left either living on the streets, in their cars, within encampments, or are fully unsheltered (USICH). These U.S. Veterans have not only earned, but deserve to have the constant support and resources needed to help them to be successful in their future endeavors. This includes access to housing, health care, and job opportunities. In offering these resources, the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness will be able to decrease substantially over time.

Before being able to successfully work towards getting Veterans off of the streets, it is important to understand what the causes were that led them into this situation. One cause of Veteran homelessness is explained in the interview “Why Do Veterans Become Homeless?”, by the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, in which the USC interviews Jeremiah Mason who was active in the U.S. Navy for 14 years. Jeremiah states that “those who receive other-than-honorable or dishonorable discharges are prevented from receiving federal benefits through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs”. This leads to a portion of Veterans having extreme difficulties when attempting to find proper health care, employment, and housing, due to not having access to the necessary resources. Therefor those having a dishonorable, or other-than-honorable, discharge are more likely to end up living in the street. There are several more causes that are explained by Suzannah K. Creech, et al., in “Identifying Mental and Physical Health Correlates of Homelessness among First-Time and Chronically Homeless Veterans”. The causes stated within this journal consist of “substance abuse, serious mental illness (SMI), and exposure to childhood trauma”. They then go on to suggest the “socioeconomic factors such as worse overall health, unemployment, and [a variety of] disability[ies]”. All of the causes that were listed have a large impact on the military Veterans, and when resources aren’t given to help them deal with these issues, it adds to the homeless population in regard to Veterans.

There have been several previously tried solutions, majority of which are still being implemented in order to fight back against Veteran homelessness. In “Here are 5 Ways We’re Ending Veteran Homelessness”, written by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the NAEH explain several solutions in the form of a list. Three out of the five solutions are specific to housing the different types of homeless Veterans. The first is the advancement of “Housing First strategies for moving people quickly out of homelessness and back into housing”. This strategy has been said to be quiet helpful due to the VA incorporating “it into its array of programs serving homeless vets and their families”. The second solution was also incorporated by the VA, and it was created by Congress. It is called “the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF)”, and they not only put forth money to help prevent homelessness, but they also fund rapid re-housing which helps put homeless vets and their families into homes. The SSVF is specifically used to help the portion of Veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness. The third solution consists of a collaboration between the VA and “The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This program is smaller in regard to the amount of Veterans they are able to house. Due to this, they focuses primarily on housing the Veterans who have obtained severe disabilities, and the Veterans who are “chronically homeless”, meaning they have been living on the streets for a long period of time.

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In “Rurality or Distance to Care and the Risk of Homelessness among Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans”, by Richard E. Nelson, et al., there is a solution that is discussed that could greatly benefit the homeless Veteran population. It is suggested that

a veteran would cease to receive certain healthcare services in the VA after becoming homeless due to barriers to access care, these administrative codes may not completely capture homelessness among our cohort. However, it may be the case that veterans living in rural areas or living far away from VA facilities are less likely to have administrative evidence of homelessness simply because they faced more substantial barriers to accessing VA facilities than those living in urban areas or closer to VA facilities or that they had more limited access to VA homeless programs.

This demonstrates that in order to be able to give the help that is needed by homeless Veterans, the resources provided by the VA need to become easier to access. This journal specifies that there is “further investigations” needed in order to better understand homeless vets who are located “in different geographic settings”.

This additional research in itself is a part of the solution and is desperately needed in order to help a larger portion of the homeless Veteran community. Not only will it allow for knowledge on where to provide much needed resources, but this will in turn give Veterans access to better their physical and psychological health, help them find employment, and allow them the chance to find permeant housing. To support this proposed solution, in “Ending Homelessnes-Then What?”, written by Thomas O’Toole et al., it is stated that it would be best to “take advantage of this current opportunity to codify the policy of sustainable homeless prevention solutions in good science, evidence-based programs, and real results”. Therefor the added research will give assistance to the VA to better tailor their services to accommodate all homeless veterans and optimize their chances of success throughout their return to the civilian lifestyle.

Another possible solution to the homelessness among Veterans can be found through the interview between USC and Jeremiah Mason, as discussed earlier. Throughout the interview, Jeremiah uses his own experience with retiring from the U.S. Navy to suggests two ways in which veteran homeless could be decreased. The first deal with the way in which the “DoD Transition Assistance Program (TAP)” attempts to provide too much information over a short period of time. Jeremiah believes that this program could benefit from restructuring their curriculums in a way that would be more efficient. Rather than having five days filled with “PowerPoint presentations, workshops, and lectures on various benefits and resources” that can help with the adjusting into civilian life, there is a better process that could be done. Mr. Mason states that “transitional process should be more comprehensive and accessible to service members over a longer period of time”. He then goes on to explain that the “Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) should create a “one-stop shop” that helps with transition resources, and continued assistance after military personnel are placed back into civilian life. The second portion of this solution is in reference to who, out of all Veterans, are allowed access to these resources. As mentioned previously, military personnel who receive an other-than-honorable or, dishonorable, discharge are excluded from being able to use any resources. This means they do not get any assistance whatsoever during their transitional period. Jeremiah explains that those who served their country should be granted “some degree of federal benefits”. By allowing all veterans and service members access to educational, housing, career, financial, and VA health resources, along with a more “comprehensive and interactive” (Jeremiah Mason) transitional process, “we could significantly reduce the rates of homelessness among veterans”.

There are many solutions when it comes to the homeless epidemic among Veterans. Using one solution at a time will help get some Veterans off of the streets but, it won’t allow for putting a permanent end to this issue. In order to consistently and successfully decrease the number of homeless vets, it will take a combination of the presented solutions. With time and the effort of many, we can put an end to Veterans battling homelessness, and give them the life they deserve.   

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