In the United States, serving in the military is seen as the most honorable thing one can do for the nation. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, there were 19 million military veterans in the U.S. in 2021. These individuals account for about 7% of the nation’s total population, but they also make up 13% of the adult population experiencing homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that on any given night, over 40,000 veterans are forced to sleep on the streets. Why are these highly-respected individuals experiencing homeless?
Homelessness among veterans is more common than you think
According to Green Doors, “veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans due to poverty, lack of support networks,” and inadequate affordable housing options. Of the currently estimated 19 million veterans, about 1.5 million are considered to be at risk of homelessness. This means that these veterans live below the poverty level and pay more than 50% of household income on rent.
Non-white veterans and veterans with disabilities face an increased risk of experiencing homeless. About 56% of veterans experiencing homelessness are African-American or Hispanic, despite accounting for about 12.8% and 15.4% of the nation’s population respectively. Approximately 53% of unhoused veterans have a disability, compared with 41% of housed veterans.
On average, veterans spend an average of six years unhoused. Their non-veteran counterparts experience about four years unhoused.
Due to the physical and mental burden of serving, about 50% of veterans experiencing homelessness have serious mental illnesses and 70% suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
Why are so many veterans becoming homeless?
Along with the shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to adequate healthcare, many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who suffer from PTSD commonly experience traumatic flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about an event that make it hard for an individual to go about their day-to-day activities. These factors combined with a lack of family and social support can easily lead to homelessness.
Additionally, the skills required to serve in the military are difficult to apply to the civilian workforce. According to Statista, only about 5 millions veterans had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2019. Without a degree, many veterans are at a disadvantage when competing for jobs that offer a livable salary.
How can we solve this issue?
It is vital to provide veterans with the proper support for their transition back to civilian life. This includes access to affordable education, mental and physical healthcare and housing. Additionally, veterans should receive economic support during their transition period. The financial support would allow veterans to fully commit to completing their education, overcoming mental roadblocks and healing physically.
The DoD Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is designed to help veterans transition to civilian life. However, the system is faulty; the program only lasts five days and compresses a large amount of information into a short period of time. While the presentations, workshops and lectures can be helpful to veterans, the rushed pace of the program can be overwhelming and unhelpful. The model of TAP does not allow veterans time to process or apply what they are learning, reducing the program’s long-term efficacy. Additionally, this service is not accessible to all veterans.
According to the USC School of Social Work, if the general population could reframe their understanding of military discharges to see every veteran as deserving of support, we can create a more effective model for military transitional services. With better programs in place, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness can be significantly reduced, providing these individuals with the honor they deserve.
Veterans have given up years of their time and put their life at risk for the safety of the American population. Yet, inadequate transitional programs and a lack of awareness about veteran homelessness puts these individuals in disadvantageous situations. For what veterans have given to our country, the least we can do is provide them with the resources they need to live comfortably following their discharge. No veteran should have to suffer physically, mentally or financially. It is time to reevaluate our systems and beliefs in order to help these heroic individuals.