According to recent studies conducted in San Francisco by the University of San Francisco, between 30 and 40 percent of the homeless population in San Francisco experience a mental illness or substance abuse. Mental illnesses are often misunderstood as personal choices that someone has made for their lives when that is not the case. One specific group of those experiencing homelessness that may have mental health issues are Veterans.
As recently as January 2020, about 37,300 Veterans were experiencing homelessness. About ⅔ of these veterans were sheltered, and ⅓ were unsheltered. Unfortunately, between 48% and 67% of veterans experiencing homelessness have mental health issues. These veterans experiencing homelessness are more likely to have co-occurring disorders (a mental illness that includes at least one alcohol or other drug use disorder and non-drug-related mental disorder). The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) has various programs for veterans experiencing mental health crises and specific programs for those experiencing homelessness.
The Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) Program provides medical services for veterans experiencing homelessness. This initiative intends to house these Veterans and offer high-quality rehabilitation to improve physical and mental quality of life. Other programs that do not require relocation include the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) or VeteransCrisisLine.net to online chat with a V.A. responder.
A prevalent issue in all discussions of mental illness is the surrounding stigma. Stigmas can come from various populations, including the public, oneself, and even institutions. It affects individuals with mental illnesses and also the people around that person. Stigma can have harmful effects, including reluctance to seek help or treatment, social isolation, physical violence, and self-doubt.
Veterans have given up a lot of their time to serve their country. Nearly six out of every ten veterans experiencing homelessness are above the age of 51. However, younger Veterans who served in the post-9/11 era are becoming more at risk for homelessness. Regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation, all Veterans experiencing homelessness should be cared for by the V.A. programs. The DCHV program is one great effort to reduce homelessness in the Veteran population. However, Veterans who have served their country deserve to be adequately diagnosed for mental health conditions and receive proper care for their diagnoses. Veterans who have protected freedom deserve to be protected themselves.