Homelessness a Growing Problem Among U.S. Veterans
> 11/8/2007 11:23:08 AM

According to a report released today by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, veterans comprise about 26% of the homeless population in the United States although they account for only 11% of the general population. Additionally, over 495,000 veterans were homeless over the course of 2006. The report, Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness among Veterans, used data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau to reveal the extent of homelessness among veterans and examine some of the reasons why so many veterans end up living on the street.

When compared with the general population, veterans tend to be better educated and are more likely to be employed, yet they often end up on the street after returning home from war. Unaffordable housing is a main factor behind homelessness in general, and the report indicates that almost half a million U.S. veterans spend over 50% of their income on rent. More than 54% of those spending over half of their income on rent fell below the poverty level, leaving them highly at risk for homelessness. The steep price of housing, however, is not the only reason why veterans become homeless. The mental illnesses which plague veterans, notably post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse, prevent them from making smooth transitions from military service to civilian life. According to the report, 19% of Iraq veterans suffer from mental illness, as do 11.3% of veterans returning from Afghanistan.

These numbers will continue to rise as veterans return from the Middle East, and, as the New York Times reports, veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are already appearing in homeless shelters. Recent veterans are becoming homeless faster than the veterans of past wars, possibly due to high rates of mental illness as well as lengthy and repeated tours of duty. The number of women serving in the military has also led to an increase in homeless women, with women representing 11% of newly homeless veterans. For many of these women, sexual assault is an additional contributing factor for the descent into homelessness. Of hundreds of homeless female veterans from recent wars, about 40% have reported suffering sexual assault while serving in the military.

In 2005, an estimated 44,000 to 64,000 veterans were chronically homeless. With such an unacceptable proportion of veterans ending up on the street, we need to do more to help homeless veterans recover their lives while also providing greater support for those just returning from war. Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness among Veterans emphasizes the need for more government-funded housing made specifically for veterans as well as the development of risk assessment programs to prevent homelessness in veterans. With help, men and women who have already sacrificed so much will not suffer from the crippling effects of unaffordable housing and war-related trauma.

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