August 1, 2016, by David McCauley – Michelle Obama once said, “Tens of thousands of veterans who risked their lives for our country are living in a shelter or sleeping near a subway vent. We should be horrified because that’s not who we are as Americans.”
For many veterans, homelessness is their reality. As of January 2014, 49,933 homeless veterans were identified in communities across the United States – sometimes that figure ranges as high as 58,000. Veterans account for 8.4% of the total homeless population. As a comparison, only 7.3% of all living Americans have ever served in the armed forces.
Veterans experience homelessness for a variety of reasons. Combat veterans in particular may face additional difficulties returning to normal civilian life. Those without circles of social support like family or friends are at an increased risk to become homeless. It’s important to understand that outside of the service, veterans face all of the regular problems of civilians (job market, wages, housing, etc) as well as any service-connected conditions and disabilities.
Solving this problem is everyone’s responsibility. Many homeless veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or might suffer from other disorders and disabilities. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 43% of all homeless veterans are between the ages of 51 and 61 and most are likely to have served in the Vietnam War.
Many veterans still fall between the cracks. 2009 marked the year when call centers were established to help homeless veterans receive assistance. The initiative was sharply criticized in 2014 when a report determined that of 79,500 veterans calling the line, 27% were unable to speak to a counselor. 47% of referrals didn’t lead to homeless veterans receiving aid or any services. The report indicated that the call center missed more than 40,000 opportunities to help homeless veterans. These gaps demonstrate why it is so important for the community to get involved.
The VA has taken other approaches to help veterans receive care and assistance. An information exchange pilot program beginning in Virginia is intended to create a virtual health network for veterans. This will allow more healthcare providers to have access to their records and use these in a holistic approach toward treatment plans.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans presents the following ways for individuals and local organizations to help make a difference:
- Support emergency shelters
- Volunteer as mentors, counselors or legal aides
- Raise funds for programs
- Volunteer at Stand Down programs
Stand Down programs are two or three day events where veterans can receive health services, shelter, food, and clothing in a community setting. Doing nothing for the homeless is costlier than providing them with access to support. It compounds the problems of these veterans when they don’t receive the help they need, especially medical care. They’ve served us and now it’s our turn to serve them. All of the nation’s homeless deserve a second chance at life. It’s time that we come together to prevent them from disappearing in the margins. Volunteering and showing your support can make a definite difference in the lives of homeless veterans.
If you or a veteran family member are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, please call Veteran’s Affairs services at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.