Late Breaking News
Combat Experiences Not the Primary Reason for Veterans Homelessness
WASHINGTON, DC—One of the most surprising pieces of information to come out of the VA Homeless Summit, held here recently, was the revelation by VA researchers that experiences of combat are not the primary reason for the circumstances of most homeless combat veterans.
Dr Robert Rosenheck, director of VA’s Northeast Program Evaluation Center, has been a leader in veteran homeless research. According to work being done by he and his colleagues, there are a host of more powerful factors that result in a veteran becoming homeless, other than the trauma of combat. On average, Dr Rosenheck said, veterans became homeless 12.5 years after military service, with any number of adverse factors occurring in the interim. In surveys of veteran homeless, 59% said military service had nothing to do with their homelessness.
“The reasons veterans are homeless are mainly the reasons other people are homeless. It’s not their combat service for most of them,” Rosenheck asserted.
While 40% of homeless veterans are Vietnam-era veterans, statistically, it’s the post-Vietnam veterans—the first generation of volunteer Army veterans—that are more likely to become homeless. While this group, veterans between 35 and 44 years of age, represent 14% of the general veteran population, they represent 34% of the homeless veteran population. “You are 3.2 times greater to be homeless in the post-Vietnam era if you are a veteran than if you are not,” Rosenheck explained.
The all-volunteer military of the post-Vietnam era was comprised of people who started off with certain disadvantages, he noted. Immediately following Vietnam, the military did not have the prestige or respect it does today, so those volunteering were more likely to do so because of economic necessity. This means that when they left, they had less of an economic cushion and therefore were more likely to fall victim to the kind of financial downward spiral that could lead to homelessness.
And while there has been worry among public officials of a possible landslide of recent veterans becoming homeless, Rosenheck said that the data has yet to show that. While OIF/OEF veterans represent 4% of the general population, they represent only 1.3% of the homeless veteran population. Rosenheck added that the last time an in-depth national survey of the homeless population in America was taken was in 1996, and that it is past time for an updated one.