Why Doesn't the VA Do More for Homeless Veterans?
Why Doesn't the VA Do More for Homeless Veterans?
Let’s begin by clarifying, the Veteran’s Association does a lot for our veterans. But when you hear about the alarming rate of unhoused vets, you might find yourself wondering if they could be doing more. The VA partners with nationwide non-profits and federal, state, and local agencies to better serve our nation’s finest. These programs and services have led to significant strides in minimizing homelessness, but one homeless vet is one too many. Most importantly, it’s a problem we must solve together as a nation. Let’s dive in and explore the support services for veterans and how you can help.
The Homeless Veteran Crisis
This blog post explores how our nation’s heroes become homeless, but let’s take a quick look at some facts and statistics.
· Homelessness is defined as living on the streets, in an uninhabitable location, in a vehicle, in encampments, in an emergency shelter, or in short-term or untraditional housing. It can include someone who is couch surfing without stability or peace of mind that they have a place to call home.
· According to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment report, there were at least 40,000 homeless veterans each night in the United States. This number is down 45% from 2009 to 2017 but has spiked since the pandemic.
· Vets are 50% more likely to become homeless than non-vets and represent 10% to 17% of the unhoused population.
· 91% of homeless vets are men and 9% are women; 56% are African-American or Hispanic.
· The average non-vet will remain homeless for 4 years, while the average homeless vet will remain unhoused for 6 years.
Why Are So Many of Our Nation’s Heroes Homeless?
Veterans are in a high-risk category for homelessness. This risk is further increased if they were in a high-risk category before they entered the military. For example, wage inequities for African-Americans and Hispanic Americans contribute to the increased percentage of unhoused black and brown vets.
Providing support services for veterans should be both proactive and reactive. Below are the top contributing factors to post-discharge homelessness:
· Many employers don’t view military experience as transferable employment experience, making it challenging to find high-paying jobs.
· The average vet receives 26 weeks of pay once they are discharged, which runs out fast if they can’t find equitable employment.
· In addition to the nationwide homeless crisis, there’s a nationwide housing crisis. This makes it difficult to find affordable housing.
· Transitioning to civilian life can be challenging, and many vets don’t have a healthy support system which may lead to social isolation.
· Vets suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may experience homelessness as one of the many negative ripple effects of PTSD.
· Vets that are medically separated and qualify for disability benefits may not have full medical coverage and/or their monthly disability check may not be enough to live on.
Common Misconceptions About Life Post-Discharge
As of 2020, 0.7% of the US population was serving in 1 of the 5 branches of the military. Unlike our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, many Americans don’t know anyone who is on active duty. Many don’t even know a veteran firsthand. Without knowing someone who has served, it can lead to a lot of misconceptions.
The bullet points below clear up many misconceptions about life post-discharge:
· Retiring from the military after a minimum of 20 years of service is not the same thing as being discharged.
· Military members who retire after 20 years or more of service are eligible for a pension plan.
· There are several types of Honorable Discharge, most of which do not provide service members with ongoing financial or medical support.
· Medical and disability support is granted on a scale of sorts. If you aren’t 100% disabled, you are only covered for service-related issues.
· The VA offers a variety of substance abuse support services for veterans, but these programs are inaccessible to those who don’t reside close to a VA campus.
· On that same note, those eligible for full or partial medical and/or dental may not live close to a VA campus.
· The VA, like many organizations, is understaffed, so it can take months to get in to see a physician.
· Most VA mental health providers are only available for one appointment per month. Even with insurance or employment, therapy isn’t in the budget for most.
· Those who aren’t medically discharged can access discounted healthcare insurance, but if they don’t have quality employment the discounted insurance is expensive.
How The VA Helps?
There are about 150 VA medical centers in the United States, and another 800 or so outpatient clinics. Since many vets don’t live close to one of these facilities, the VA has drastically increased their outreach, funding, and support to community programs. They partner with state agencies, federal agencies, and local non-profits to provide a vast range of support services for veterans.
· Proactive support includes organizations that expand employment opportunities, affordable housing, and support groups.
· Reactive support programs offer the same type of support as proactive programs, but also offer emergent health care, dental care, mental health care, addiction programs, and programs designed to get vets off the street.
These partnerships are powerful, and they work! Since the VA expanded its outreach programs there is a lower risk for homelessness, 45% less homelessness, a shorter duration of homelessness, and improved overall quality of life post-service. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done—which is why we must work together.
How You Can Help?
While the VA provides funding, community non-profits such as Armored Souls rely on donations and volunteers to further our impact. Now that you have a better understanding of the unique challenges our nation’s heroes face, you may be wondering how you can help expand support services for our veterans.
Armored Souls founder Dantae Johnson experienced these challenges first-hand. He spent 2.5 years homeless after being Honorably Discharged and founded our non-profit to give back to his military brothers and sisters. We provide free medical, dental, and mental health care to homeless heroes, and transportation to and from their appointments.
We mean it when we say that every dollar helps! You can also reach out to discuss other ways you can help—including volunteering and providing free medical, mental health, and dental services.