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Report: Veteran Homelessness on the Rise
Military.com  |  By Terry Howell  |  June 18, 2007
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to a sharp rise in the number of homeless military veterans, a recently completed Congressional Research Service report on homeless veterans says, and lawmakers are beginning to take notice. 

The report shows female veterans were as much as four times more likely to become homeless than non-veteran women, with male veterans nearly twice as likely to become homeless than non-veterans.

Though many believe homelessness plagues Vietnam draftees disproportionately, the largest group of homeless vets comes from those who enlisted after Vietnam, the May 31 CRS report showed.

And although experiences in combat and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder are contributing factors to homelessness, studies have "found no unique association between combat-related PTSD and homelessness," the report said.

"Research has determined that homeless combat veterans were no more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than combat veterans who were not homeless," CRS said.

Since Vietnam, most veterans do not normally become homeless within the first 10 years of separation, the CRS report said. But a December 2006 "Iraq Veteran Project" study prepared by the Swords to Plowshares veterans' advocacy group, troops who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming homeless sooner than their predecessors - seeking housing services within months after returning from Iraq.

"New veterans are falling through the cracks, and they are shocked and angry at the lack of care afforded them," said Iraq Veteran Project report author, Amy Fairweather. "They stand at the precipice of chronic homelessness unless there is a concerted effort to address their needs." 

And Congress is taking notice. 

Illinois Democrat and presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, told the Associated Press at an April 6 campaign rally that "veterans are far more likely to be homeless than non-veterans and part of it is because we're not providing services to them as they transition out of the service,"

"Part of it is because there is just not enough affordable housing," he added. 

In April, Obama introduced legislation dubbed the "Homes for Heroes Act," which would establish grant and voucher programs to encourage development of affordable housing targeted for veterans.

In addition, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has introduced a bill that would institute a program in which the VA and DoD would work together to identify returning members of the armed services who are at risk of homelessness.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Larry Craig (R. Idaho), is lending his clout to the problem.

"The number of homeless on any given night is too high and we are working hard on Capitol Hill to turn those numbers around," said Craig, who recently received the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans 2007 Congressional Award.

According to the Iraq Veteran Project report, the VA has created a list of factors that can help prevent homelessness, including employment assistance, transition assistance, rehabilitation, medical care, commensurate employment, compensation award and work therapy.

In response to congressional pressure, the Pentagon recently partnered with several federal agencies to create an online portal called "Turbo TAP" designed to help veterans get the information, counseling, and access to the services they need to ensure a successful transition from military to civilian life.

The CRS report adds there are currently five federal programs specifically designed to assist homeless veterans, these programs will require about $270 million in 2007, and future costs are on the rise.

Other research indicates that VA homeless programs have already served as many as 600 returning OIF/OEF veterans and over 1,000 more have been identified as being at risk of becoming homeless, CRS added.
 
This leaves many veterans' advocates concerned that the current VA budget and infrastructure will not be able to respond to the needs of an ever-increasing number of homeless and at risk veterans in the coming years.

"VA has consistently underestimated the homeless veteran problem," said Larry Scott, veterans' advocate and founder of "VA Watchdog.org."

"And, even when presented with hard data on the number of homeless vets in America, VA continues to under fund outreach, rehabilitation programs and facilities designed to help this vulnerable population."

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