Veterans on the Streets: Why Are Veterans Homeless?

Federal legislation considers people who don’t have a regular, fixed and adequate nighttime shelter as homeless. People who become homeless do so for a variety of reasons. In the 1970s, people were left without shelter when mental hospitals closed, and economic reversals often cause homelessness in any decade. This applies especially to people who don’t have family members or lack financial assets.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how many people experience homelessness because they’re not always out in the open. Since many areas consider it a criminal offense to not have adequate shelter, people without homes are more prone to stay hidden so that they don’t get in trouble. Regardless of the number of vagrants, it includes many veterans. One estimate states that 12 percent of the homeless population consisted of veterans in 2013. This translates to almost 58,000 people who served their country.

In 2013, it was estimated that 3.7 percent of veterans who served between 2005 and 2006 had a five-year homeless period, once they left the military. This same study identified the following factors as major predictors of homelessness: psychotic disorder, military pay grade, and substance abuse. The disorders and abuse issues often relate to what veterans experienced during their service. Returning veterans often become homeless because of economic hardship and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) does have programs in place to deal with these problems. However, it is difficult to assess what is working because of the issues that relate to keeping statistics in these cases. The VA did conduct a study in regards to how special mental health can contribute to the displacement of former service members. From the 306,351 veterans who were referred to receive mental health care, 5.6 percent would end up homeless within a year.

This study took place between 2008 and 2012. Its purpose was to assess risk factors, and it determined several causes: Women had a slightly higher risk of becoming homeless, and the threat seemed strongly tied to age. While all age groups had vagrant veterans, those between 46 and 55 were most likely to be afflicted. Overall, those who weren’t married, were in low-income brackets or had substance abuse issues had a higher risk of experiencing homelessness in the future.