Homelessness Among the Veteran Community: America's Forgotten Heroes
Each year, thousands of citizens wind up homeless and living on the streets in America, as well as all over the world. The issue of homelessness in the U.S. has become widespread especially within the last few decades. Homelessness does not discriminate among people on caliber since any unexpected event or poor decision can leave a person homeless with very little warning. Some people that become homeless lose so much more than just a home. They lose connections to family and the outside world. They lose physical things that connect them to their past. They lose a sense of belonging in some cases. In many cases they may even lose their identity. Many of those within the homeless community were once heroes who for Americas' freedom throughout wars, both past and present. They are the homeless veterans, often passed by, overlooked and simply ignored by the normal everyday population that encounters them on the street.
This paper will analyze reasons for homelessness among veterans and examine the issues, difficulties, and stigmas that homeless veterans face in finding and being placed in housing programs. This paper will seek to obtain answers to several questions during the course of research. What qualifies a person as a homeless veteran? What is the history of homelessness among veterans? What circumstances have made a large portion of the veteran community homeless? Are more programs available to the veteran homeless community than the regular homeless community? Is the veteran homeless community stigmatized more than the regular homeless population? What are obstacles faced by female homeless veterans vs. male homeless veterans? Are older homeless veterans stigmatized more than younger homeless veterans? What programs are in place to help homeless veterans find permanent or temporary housing and how can veteran homelessness be prevented? Are there certain risk factors that can be identified to prevent veterans from becoming homeless as a solution?
What qualifies a person to be a homeless veteran?
There are statistics enumerated by Montgomery A., Fargo J., Byrne T., & Culhane P., (2013a) as follows; approximately 12% of the adult homeless population is comprised of veterans. Approximately 40% of the homeless veterans are Hispanic or African-Americans even though this accounts for 3.4% and 10.4% of the U.S. veteran population respectively. Homeless veterans are younger as compared to the total veteran population on average. About 9% are aged between 18 and 30 years and 41% are aged between 31 and 50 years. Conversely, 5% of the total number of homeless veterans is between the ages of 18 and 30 and less that 23% of them are aged between 31 and 50 years. But even as we talk of statistics of homeless veterans what exactly qualifies them to be referred to as homeless veterans.
Ami Rokach (2004), in his discussion of the causes and consequences of homelessness points at the American homeless veterans as those people who have served in the World War II, Korean War, Cold War, the Vietnam War, Panama, Grenada, Persian Gulf War, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, Persian Gulf War and the military Anti-drug cultivation efforts that took place in South America. Any person man or woman who has served in all the named wars and operations and now does not have a place to call home qualifies to be referred to as a homeless veteran.
In order for one to qualify to be assisted under the homeless veterans program which is governed by Title 38 of the U.S. code veterans have to meet the definition of being a homeless veteran. The term usually contains two layers of definition and according to Tsai J., Mares, A. & Rosenheck, A., (2013:Pp2) the first definition is Veteran for purposes of Title 38 benefit the title of the U.S. code which governs veterans' benefits is anyone that has served in active military, naval or even air force service and was not discharged in a dishonorable way. Second part veterans are considered to be homeless if they meet the definition of homeless individuals which is codified as part of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. About half of the homeless veterans are those who served during the Vietnam era. Two thirds of them are those who served America for at least three years and about a third of them were stationed in a war zone area.
History of homelessness among Veterans
Historically a number of fighters in the U.S. have ended up being homeless. It is axiomatic that wars often lead to homelessness in territories where combats occur. Armed forces veterans have had a first hand experience when it comes to homelessness and in the United States this phenomenon dates back to the colonial period when rising numbers of vagabonds were noted in the urban areas at the beginning of the revolutionary war. According to Montgomery A., Fargo J., Byrne T., & Culhane P., (2013b), by 1784 the number of homeless people was increasing at a very alarming rate which was noticeable mostly in the cities. The post civil war era witnessed a more significant growth of homelessness worldwide. In this era, the homeless veterans used to sing Old Army songs so as to dramatize their need for work which led to them being referred to as tramps which meant matching into war. At World War I thousands of the veterans most among them being homeless camped in the capital of the nation asking for bonus money. However the government destroyed their camps which led to a public relations disaster for the then president Herbert Hoover. The end of the Vietnam War collided with a time where there was economic restructuring taking place which was as a result of the war followed by a succeeding economic recession. It so happened that most of those people who fought in Vietnam were the same people who were affected most by loss of the manufacturing jobs. Montgomery (2013b) further notes that by 1870s homelessness among the veterans was termed as a national issue. Many war veterans were now riding in the rails and congregating in the cities and most of them had suffered physical injuries and trauma during the time they were in the war.
The entrance of the veterans into the streets was very traumatic and as they became of age their problems got more aggravated and chronic as Tsai J., Edens L., & Rosenheck A., (2013a) highlight in their respective on the chronically homeless adults. They further note that as early as 1870s there was deepening of recession and most of the cities responded to this by creating new anti-vagrancy legislation. By 1970s there was the emergence of modern homelessness as a significant proportion of homeless men were seen sleeping outdoors in late numbers in most of the cities were armed forces veterans. Many veterans suffered post traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse and physical disabilities that were caused by the experiences they had during the combat period.
According to Chinman M., Hannah G., McCarthy S., (2009:Pp1), by 2011 there were around 76,000 veterans who were homeless in any given night, and within the same year an average of 136,000 veterans may have experienced homelessness. The United States Department of Veterans has estimated that there are 250,000 veterans who are homeless nationwide, and that half a million veterans are experiencing being homeless in the course of the year representing around 2% of all living American veterans.
Circumstances leading to a large portion of the veteran community being homeless
There has been increased number of homeless incidences among veterans primarily as a result of combat related disabilities and trauma as well as the failure of the government to give benefits that are adequate for housing assistance for those veterans who earn low incomes and are disabled. The VA disability benefits and other public benefits have failed to provide adequate and appropriate housing assistance for these veterans and assists less than 10% of the estimated number of veterans that experience homelessness every year as stated by Metraux S. Limin X., John D. et.al (2013Pp1). Given that there is a high prevalence of mental illnesses and other disabilities among the homeless veterans there is need for supportive housing in that there should be housing on-site support services for those veterans that live with mental illnesses and other disabilities.
Tessler R., Rosenheck R., & Gamache G., (2002b) while comparing the conditions of the homeless veterans and the other homeless people due to other causes indicate that in addition to complex set of factors that influence all homelessness irrespective of the cause, extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to healthcare a large number of at risk veterans live with the effects of post-traumatic disorders and substance abuse which linger and compounded by lack of social and family support networks.
Elbogen, Sullivan, Wolfe & Wagner, (2013) site achieving financial stability after military service is also a major contributing factor to homelessness among veterans. First of all military occupations and the training they go through are not always transferable…