Thank for serving our country ma’am, now sleep on the street

Dec. 17, 2009

It is no secret that so many of the homeless in this country are veterans. And little shocks me these days. But I found myself surprised to learn the number of homeless female veterans to be on the rise.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, women are a growing segment of the veteran population. In addition, there is a higher proportion of female veterans with severe housing cost burden. Of the homeless population in the United States, one-fifth are veterans.

“A growing body of research indicates that female veterans have a higher risk of homelessness than their male counterparts.” Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans

The report suggests female veterans  are often at greater risk of homelessness as a result of higher incidence of sexual assault and victimization, which is linked to higher rates of PTSD.

They’re younger than homeless male veterans, have lower incomes, and are more likely to bring children. Their numbers have doubled in the past decade, and there are an estimated 6,500 homeless female veterans on any given night — about 5 percent of the total homeless veterans population.

Like male veterans, many homeless female veterans face substance abuse and mental health problems. Many also struggle with sexual trauma that occurred in their childhood, in the military, or elsewhere.

Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs finds that approximately 131,000 veterans were homeless at a point in time in 2008. This is a rate of 58 homeless veterans for every 10,000 veterans, more than double the rate of homelessness among the general population.

And vets returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are not immune from the current economic state and high unemployment rates. The jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans is higher than the overall U.S. rate and has nearly doubled in the past year to 11.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 1.5 million veterans — 6.3 percent — had incomes below the federal poverty line, according to a 2005 congressional analysis of census figures.

Last month Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki pledged to advocates to end homelessness among veterans within the next five years, and specifically mentioned the need to help women veterans. The plan includes preventive measures like discharge planning for incarcerated Veterans re-entering society, supportive services for low-income Veterans and their families and a national referral center to link Veterans to local service providers.

While much is being done to reduce homelessness among veterans, the U.S. military and the VA need to step up and take care of those who serve this nation. That so many in this country are homeless is bad enough. That veterans who put their lives in danger are homeless is beyond unacceptable.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper