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Homelessness Among Veterans in the USA

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The United States has an ongoing homelessness problem that seems to be unfixable. Thousands of people without homes, jobs, and adequate health care. Among them is a percentage of homeless veterans who have fought for our freedoms and have sacrificed their lives for our country. Countless studies have been done to trying to figure out why veterans are becoming homeless and what steps we can do to solve this problem. This paper will take a look into our war history, Mental Health/Substance Abuse, previous attempts to solve homelessness among veterans, and solutions to solve homelessness. To understand how the homelessness problem has become what it is today. We have to talk about the turning point in America where we started viewing veterans as criminals and not war heroes.

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Veterans have been in countless wars since the founding of the Continental Army established June 14th, 1775. Always fighting to protect America’s interests, freedoms, and sovereignty as a nation. Throughout our military’s history, veterans have always been treated with the utmost respect. Civilians during WW1 and WW2 recognized the sacrifices soldiers go through during their service and were treated with the utmost respect, as well as given the best treatment. There was also a support system for struggling veterans adapting back to civilian life. Then in 1964, the United States military got involved in the Vietnam war, a war where victory was unattainable. Research has found that Veterans are at an increased risk for homelessness since 1975 following the Vietnam War (Tsai, Mares, & Rosenheck, 2012 B) The Vietnam war was the

first war covered by the press in gruesome reality of what soldiers were facing in day to day conflict. Vietnam exposed soldiers and viewers at home too long battles resulting in countless deaths. Most civilians protested the war, they did not want our troops to be involved in the war. When the soldiers returned from war, exhausted and just wanting to be reunited with their families. They were met with disgust and shame from the civilians they just fought a war for. The soldiers were viewed as second-class citizens, yelled at, and spit on. This was the beginning of veterans being mistreated and not getting the proper support while transitioning back to civilian life, resulting in them falling in the cracks and left behind. Fast forward to 1991 when we got involved in Dessert Storm when Post Traumatic Stress disorder was really brought to light. Followed up by the Iraq war which brought forth the effort to help veterans get off the streets and into treatment. Even though great strides have been made trying to fix the homeless problem, there are still thousands of veterans on the streets.

Homelessness has been a public health problem for over three decades and the percentage of veterans is alarming due to them fighting for our country. Veterans make up roughly 7% of the homeless population but the department of Housing reported 13% of the homeless were veterans, which is around 63,000 homeless as of January 2012 (Carlson et al, 2013). A majority of these veterans are diagnosed with mental illnesses or they’re struggling with substance abuse. Of the homeless veterans, 45% are diagnosed with a mental illness (Carlson et al, 2013). Mental illnesses developed because of the tragedies of war and worsened due to the lack of resources. There are two severe mental illnesses associated with homeless veterans; they are schizophrenia and bipolar disorders (Tsai et al, 2013). Veterans with either of these mental illnesses are not suitable to live on the street. Especially because these are illnesses that developed over the span of their military career. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is starting to become a much more common thing among homeless veterans due to our engagement in the middle east as a whole. Most homeless veterans that are diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder are diagnosed with a mood disorder (Tsai et al, 2013). Post-traumatic stress disorder has been known to plague the United States military, often hindering the transitioning period from soldier to civilian. But homeless veterans seem to be struggling with Post-traumatic stress disorder at much higher rates than the rest of the military. A study found that in homeless veterans Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has a higher rate of occurrence (Tsai et al, 2013). A mental illness that only worsens with added elements such as substance abuse and an unsteady household or income. Seventy percent of homeless veterans have substance abuse problems (Carlson et al, 2013). An alarming rate that has had a direct impact that has had a direct impact on their friends and family. Substance abuse also impairs one’s judgment, making one reluctant to seek what little resources are out there for veterans. The use of drugs and alcohol influences treatment and healthcare decision-making (Goldstein, Luther, Haas, Appelt, Gordon, 2010). A recipe for disaster, often spiraling once strong proud soldiers into depression and furthering themselves from reaching the ultimate goal of being healthy. Not only to be healthy but to finally adapt back to society and become a functioning member once again. Homeless veterans are mostly older individuals with substantial medical problems. With high levels of substance abuse and mental illness and increased knowledge of and access to firearms, it is not surprising that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide (Schinka, Schinka, Casey, Kasprow, &Bossarte, 2012). Every military member has known at least one person from their work who has committed suicide. It is a sad reality all military members must face. The sounds of your fallen comrade’s name being announced during the last call it truly heart-wrenching. Every loss of life is devastating, but these are young healthy soldiers taking their lives. The harsh living standards that older homeless veterans struggle with day today is the reason why it is much more common for a homeless veteran to commit suicide compared to its civilian counterpart. Suicidal behavior is hypothesized to be more prevalent among older homeless veterans due to the vulnerability resulting from substance abuse, mental illness, poor health, and limited access to health care (Goldstein, Luther, Haas, Appelt, Gordon, 2010). While some light is being shown on homeless veterans’ mental illness and substance abuse, there hasn’t been much talk about solutions.

A solution in the 1980s was the closest thing we have had to a solution to this ongoing issue. While it ultimately fell through, this model shows that there is hope for veterans. In November 1987, the Veterans Affairs Department created Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans Program at 20 Veterans Affairs medical centers, these had anywhere up to seventy-five beds (Leda & Rosenheck, 1992). Slightly small areas, but for the 1980s this was great progress. These places were staffed with people who could treat the physical and mental health of the homeless veterans (Leda & Rosenheck, 1992). An institution that puts a roof over their head and most importantly was filled with resources for any sort of problems that veterans were going through. Anyone with a substance abuse problem was made to do a substance abuse program, pushing the agenda of getting healthy and rejoining the rest of society. They had group therapy, individual counseling, and work for pay rehabilitation programs (Leda & Rosenheck, 1992). A model that you hear mostly in European jails that have been proven to work. This 1992, study showed that participation in a local treatment facility had direct results with improvements in both mental health and substance abuse (Leda & Rosenheck, 1992).  

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