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VA Estimates Fewer Homeless Vets
Associated Press  |  March 06, 2008
WASHINGTON - The number of homeless veterans has declined to just over 150,000, the government says.

The Veterans Affairs Department estimates that on any given night last year, 154,000 veterans were homeless, about a 20 percent decrease from 195,827 in the agency's 2006 estimate.

The decrease comes even as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are trickling into shelters. The VA has seen about 500 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in homeless-specific programs, and the number is increasing as the pool of troops who fought in the wars grows, said Pete Dougherty, the VA's director of homeless programs.

VA and community programs targeting homelessness, a decline in the number of living World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans, and an improvement in the way the annual estimate was taken so fewer people were counted more than once were all credited as reasons behind the overall decline.

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The estimate, which was made public Thursday, was reached by reviewing health utilization data among veterans and counts and surveys conducted by local communities.

Veterans overall have a high rate of homeownership, but a percentage historically has struggled with homelessness.

About 45 percent of participants in the 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.

For many years, Dougherty said it was estimated that on any given night 250,000 veterans were homeless, and in the early 1980s, an estimated 40 percent of the homeless were veterans. Today, it is estimated that about one in five people who are homeless are veterans.

In 1987, the VA started its first program specifically targeting homeless veterans. This year, it will spend an estimated $300 million on such programs, although homeless advocates have said more funding is needed.

The estimated decline in homeless veterans appears to coincide with overall national trends. Last fall, the government said the estimated number of chronically homeless individuals had declined from 2005 to 2006.

The 500 homeless veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have been identified are among about 1,800 veterans identified from the recent wars through the VA's homeless outreach programs in the past three years, Dougherty said. About half the total had a place to stay and a job, but they were at a soup kitchen or other service agency getting help, he said.

"Obviously, war is not a good thing, so we clearly expect we will see some of these veterans," Dougherty said. "The difference for us is we're hoping we're going to see them early, we're going to be able to do good preventative health care with them and they're going to get on with their lives and never face homelessness again."

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