“will prompt a “tsunami” of homelessness”

Can we heed this warning?


1 in 4 homeless is a vet, study says

By Kimberly Hefling – The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Nov 8, 2007 10:16:21 EST

Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the U.S., though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released Thursday.

And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.

The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.

The Alliance to End Homelessness, http://www.naeh.org/a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from VA and the Census Bureau. Data from 2005 estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

In comparison, VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

Some advocates say such an early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.

“We’re going to be having a tsunami of them eventually because the mental health toll from this war is enormous,” said Daniel Tooth, director of veterans affairs for Lancaster County, Pa.

While services to homeless veterans have improved in the past 20 years, advocates say more financial resources still are needed. With the spotlight on the plight of Iraq veterans, they hope more will be done to prevent homelessness and provide affordable housing to the younger veterans while there’s a window of opportunity.

When the Vietnam War ended, that was part of the problem. The war was over, it was off TV, nobody wanted to hear about it,” said John Keaveney, a Vietnam veteran and a founder of New Directions in Los Angeles, which provides substance abuse help, job training and shelter to veterans.

“I think they’ll be forgotten,” Keaveney said of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “People get tired of it. It’s not glitzy that these are young, honorable, patriotic Americans. They’ll just be veterans, and that happens after every war.”

Keaveney said it’s difficult for his group to persuade some homeless Iraq veterans to stay for treatment and help because they don’t relate to the older veterans. Those who stayed have had success — one is now a stockbroker and another is applying to be a police officer, he said.

“They see guys that are their father’s age and they don’t understand, they don’t know, that in a couple of years they’ll be looking like them,” he said.

After being discharged from the military, Jason Kelley, 23, of Tomahawk, Wis., who served in Iraq with the Wisconsin National Guard, took a bus to Los Angeles looking for better job prospects and a new life.

Kelley said he couldn’t find a job because he didn’t have an apartment, and he couldn’t get an apartment because he didn’t have a job. He stayed in a $300-a-week motel until his money ran out, then moved into a shelter run by the group U.S. VETS in Inglewood, Calif. He’s since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

“The only training I have is infantry training and there’s not really a need for that in the civilian world,” Kelley said in a phone interview. He has enrolled in college and hopes to move out of the shelter soon.

The Iraq vets seeking help with homelessness are more likely to be women, less likely to have substance abuse problems, but more likely to have mental illness — mostly related to post-traumatic stress, said Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at VA.

Overall, 45 percent of participants in VA’s homeless programs have a diagnosable mental illness and more than three out of four have a substance abuse problem, while 35 percent have both, Dougherty said.

Historically, a number of fighters in U.S. wars have become homeless. In the post-Civil War era, homeless veterans sang old Army songs to dramatize their need for work and became known as “tramps,” which had meant to march into war, said Todd DePastino, a historian at Penn State University’s Beaver campus who wrote a book on the history of homelessness.

After World War I, thousands of veterans — many of them homeless — camped in the nation’s capital seeking bonus money. Their camps were destroyed by the government, creating a public relations disaster for President Hoover.

The end of the Vietnam War coincided with a time of economic restructuring, and many of the same people who fought in Vietnam were also those most affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs, DePastino said.

Their entrance to the streets was traumatic and, as they aged, their problems became more chronic, recalled Sister Mary Scullion, who has worked with the homeless for 30 years and co-founded of the group Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia http://www.projecthome.org/

“It takes more to address the needs because they are multiple needs that have been unattended,” Scullion said. “Life on the street is brutal and I know many, many homeless veterans who have died from Vietnam.”

VA started targeting homelessness in 1987, 12 years after after the fall of Saigon. Today, VA has, either on its own or through partnerships, more than 15,000 residential rehabilitative, transitional and permanent beds for homeless veterans nationwide. It spends about $265 million annually on homeless-specific programs and about $1.5 billion for all health care costs for homeless veterans.

Because of these types of programs and because two years of free medical care is being offered to all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Dougherty said they hope many veterans from recent wars who are in need can be identified early.

“Clearly, I don’t think that’s going to totally solve the problem, but I also don’t think we’re simply going to wait for 10 years until they show up,” Dougherty said. “We’re out there now trying to get everybody we can to get those kinds of services today, so we avoid this kind of problem in the future.”

In all of 2006, the Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 495,400 veterans were homeless at some point during the year.

The group recommends that 5,000 housing units be created per year for the next five years dedicated to the chronically homeless that would provide permanent housing linked to veterans’ support systems. It also recommends funding an additional 20,000 housing vouchers exclusively for homeless veterans, and creating a program that helps bridge the gap between income and rent.

Following those recommendations would cost billions of dollars, but there is some movement in Congress to increase the amount of money dedicated to homeless veterans programs.

On a recent day in Philadelphia, case managers from Project H.O.M.E. and the VA picked up William Joyce, 60, a homeless Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair who said he’d been sleeping at a bus terminal.

“You’re an honorable veteran. You’re going to get some services,” outreach worker Sam Santiago told Joyce. “You need to be connected. You don’t need to be out here on the streets.”


2 Responses to ““will prompt a “tsunami” of homelessness””

  1. olotliny Says:

    President Signs Suicide Prevention Bill

    Associated Press | November 06, 2007

    WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush signed the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention bill, which provides improved mental screening and treatment for veterans.The law is named after a 22-year-old Soldier from Iowa who committed suicide in December 2005 after he returned from Iraq.

    “As a nation, we cannot stand idly by when the needs of our brave soldiers are not being met,” said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who represents Iowa and helped push the measure through the Senate. “We have a responsibility to truly support our troops by ensuring they have the services they need during their time in active service and after they return home.”

    The law requires mental health training for Veterans Affairs staff; a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility; and mental-health screening and treatment for veterans who receive VA care. It also supports outreach and education for veterans and their families, peer support counseling and research into suicide prevention.

    The new law comes amid growing misgivings about mental health problems inflicting veterans who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA Inspector General, in a report last May, said Veterans Health Administration officials estimate 1,000 suicides per year among veterans who receive care within VHA and as many as 5,000 per year among all living veterans.

    Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell, another Iowan, who sponsored the bill, commended Omvig’s parents for their sacrifice and support of the new law.

    “While suffering this personal tragedy, they went on to help other veterans and their families and have advocated for improving all mental health services at the VA,” Boswell said.



  2. olotliny Says:

    Returning Iraq war vets need compassion,treatment

    BY TONY NEWMAN | Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Manhattan.
    November 13, 2007

    Veterans Day 2007 has come and gone, but the problems facing our vets continue.

    Every day I pass homeless people on the subway and streets, and many of them hold up signs saying that they served in the Vietnam War. Sometimes, I don’t allow myself to think about it. I hand them a dollar and go back to reading my newspaper.

    But when I do think about it, I try to imagine what these veterans have seen and been through.

    What is it like to be shot at during war and know that any day may be your last? How do you deal with the pain of having friends killed in your arms? What does killing other human beings do to your emotional stability?

    It’s not hard to imagine how such experiences could lead to self-medication, drug addiction and even homelessness.

    And seeing the many Vietnam veterans with mental problems who are self-medicating with drugs, it’s easy to believe that vets from the United States’ current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – many of whom are going through similar horrors – will also battle drug abuse and homelessness.

    Many of us struggle with dependency on cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol while attempting to cope with the pressures of hectic lives. It’s obvious that our problems are nothing compared with those of people coming back after 15 months away from their families – people who have experienced the horrors and uncertainties of war and who may be emotionally or physically impaired.

    Last week, The New York Times ran a story headlined “Surge Seen in Number of Homeless Veterans.” The same day, the Los Angeles Times published a story about a new report by the Alliance to End Homelessness that says one of four homeless are veterans.

    The stories of substance abuse are also coming in. The military publication “Stars and Stripes” has reported that alcohol and other drug-use problems are common throughout the forces in Iraq. “Some of the young soldiers just can’t handle the stress and turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate,” said military defense lawyer Capt. Chris Krafchek.

    The Army’s surgeon general was quoted in an Associated Press story that a survey of troops returning from Iraq found 30 percent had developed mental health problems three to four months after coming home.

    What’s going to happen to all of these people who are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts? Many will end up using drugs, just as many civilians do. So on top of all their other problems, many of the vets will have to worry about getting caught with drugs, being arrested or ending up homeless.

    U.S. prisons are already filled with nonviolent drug offenders, many serving mandatory sentences of 15 years to life for the possession of small amounts of drugs. Service members incarcerated and separated from their families because of drug addictions resulting from their service in Iraq or Afghanistan will be yet more “collateral damage” of these wars. Veterans ending up homeless will be a similar tragedy.

    It’s easy to buy a bumper sticker and demand that everybody “Support Our Troops.” But if we’re going to walk the talk, we better be ready to offer compassion and treaItment – not just a jail cell, or the street, when it comes to helping our brothers and sisters heal from the damages of war. Veterans Day was a moment to remember, but the support must continue. We have to do better for our current returning troops than we did for veterans of Vietnam.

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