by Mary West
Silver Standard News seeks to spotlight any segment of the populace experiencing abuse. This month, the focus is on homeless veterans.
Veterans—men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our country— represent a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population. More than 40,000 veterans are living on the streets, despite a 46 percent decline in recent years, reports Task & Purpose. In addition, more than 1.4 million veterans are at risk of homelessness, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
The majority of homeless veterans live in urban areas. Nearly half served in the Vietnam War, but some have served in wars ranging from WWII to the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Efforts of the Veterans Administration (VA) to help the homeless have emphasized collaborating with community service agencies to provide those in crisis with the help they need. The VA, together with its partnerships, has supplied more than 30,000 permanent beds and nearly 15,000 transitional beds across the nation. Consequently, significant inroads in reducing the number of homeless veterans have been made. Yet more needs to be done.
Veterans’ Unique Needs
Multiple factors underlie homeless veterans’ statistics. Problems that affect the entire homeless population include a shortage of housing, a lack of access to health care, and an unlivable income. Compounding these challenges, many veterans are mentally ill and suffer from substance abuse, and they often have a poor support network of family and friends. Moreover, since military occupations are sometimes nontransferable to civilian life, veterans face challenges in finding employment.
A sizable number of veterans also have lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those with PTSD are less likely to be willing to stay in a homeless shelter. The prospect of sleeping in an open room surrounded by strangers is too anxiety provoking to be a feasible option.
Multifaceted Solutions for Veterans
Complex issues affecting homeless veterans call for multifaceted solutions. Aside from housing, veterans need nutritious meals, substance abuse care, mental health counseling, and general health care. Job training and placement are also important necessities.
Government programs have helped tremendously, but federal funds are limited, and services aren’t adequate to reach the many veterans who need them. Some experts say that the most effective programs for at-risk individuals are nonprofit, community-based groups where veterans help veterans. Beneficial programs involve transitional housing in a substance-free setting with fellow veterans who are bettering themselves. Furthermore, programs with services that are more comprehensive give veterans a better chance of procuring gainful employment and enjoying the life that most Americans take for granted.
|Veterans have given us their best while on the battlefield.|
We need to give them our best when they return home.
One service is the Veterans Outreach Center, which is a one-stop shop for veterans facing any problems. The staff assists with navigating the VA, provides financial counseling, offers employment help, and makes physical and mental health referrals. Veterans also receive a food pantry and hygiene kit. Everything is free of charge.
The other part of the Veterans Community Project is a village of tiny homes with onsite services. Its goal is to get veterans off the street and ultimately put them in permanent housing. The village, designed to meet the unique needs of veterans, gives them a stable network of support.
Los Angeles County has the largest population of homeless veterans in the country, says BlackPressUSA. A great example of a community program is the nonprofit U. S. VETS in Inglewood, California. Located in a Los Angeles suburb, the organization, which started in 1993 with five clients, has grown to serve more than 10,000 veterans. It provides free housing and a full gambit of services, including health- and employment-related programs. U.S. VETS even has outreach workers who go out on the streets and look for veterans to tell them about the program.
The Veterans Community Project and U.S. VETS are game changers for the homeless. Anyone wishing to help those who have selflessly fought for our freedoms may go to their websites and make a donation.
Silver Standard News will continue to follow this story. Whether elderly veterans are homeless or in a long-term care facility, they should be treated with all the dignity and care that is due to anyone who is infirm and in declining health. To fail to care for homeless veterans, regardless of their age, is abuse: it’s nothing less than criminal and the height of ingratitude.
Veterans have given us their best while on the battlefield. We need to give them our best when they return home.
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Shining Efforts to Help Homeless Veterans