24
Aug
08

173. Our Homeless Veterans:The Walking Wounded.

I was stopped at a traffic light last week when I saw a gentleman on the curb with a cardboard sign that read “Homeless Veteran: Need money for Food. Willing to work”. I carry little cash with me but did manage to find enough for a meal to give this man…I wish I could have given him more. It’s an all too common sight in this day and age but one that I find disturbing nonetheless. To have people begging for food saddens me. To have people without shelter simply is unacceptable. To have our veterans living on the streets is irresponsible. Yet, our country can’t quite figure out how to beat this issue of homelessness and we remain clueless about the causes of homelessness among our veterans,despite the fact that we have studies out that pinpoint statistics on our  veterans.

 The special population of our homeless veterans remains even more perplexing in scope of issues that contribute to homelessness. While the  usual “mainstream” causes for homelessness contribute to the veteran population, our vets are also facing other obstacles that further add to the complexities of homelessness.   There is a entire new generation of veterans from the Iraq war that are facing long term effects from their time in active duty with PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  The combination of facing homelessness everyday added with symptoms of PTSD places unique challenges in offering assistance to our veterans.

Here are some facts about our current Veterans.

The VA reports that 45% of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness,including many who report high rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). More recent studies suggest that veterans returning from Iraq and Afgahanistan may face high risks of homelessness because of mental health problems. 19 % of Irag veterans report mental health problems,compared with 11.3 % for those returning from Afghanistan.(National Alliance to End Homelessness)

veterans coming home from combat were 63 percent more likely to report new-onset heavy drinking than were military personnel that hadn’t been deployed to combat zones.(NIH)

Quite simply,many of our veterans who are homeless not only face the daunting task of survival without a permanent home,but also are at risk for PTSD as well as alcohol abuse. In fact, alcohol is often the drug of choice in treating PTSD .

  As part of the re-entry process, people will turn to coping mechanisms that are easily accessible, and alcohol is easily available, socially acceptable and quite effective for short-term stress relief.  (Drinking Problems Greater Among Returning Combat Veterans)

So, we have homeless veterans on the streets that suffer from PTSD and turn to alcohol. Guess what? These are the very homeless folks that are most likely to be denied services for the homeless due to their alcohol addiction~and the sad part of it is that they are just trying to fix an illness that they incurred while serving our country. It’s so easy for these vets to fall into the stereotype of the “bum” who drinks and therefore isn’t worthy of being helped,when in fact they may indeed have a combat related illness that needs to be understood and supported through appropriate services. It’s so easy for us to have disdain for the homeless in general ,but those who have a drinking problem are often dismissed as a lost cause.Unfortunatley, access to medical or social services is a major obstacle for many of our vets and even entry into shelters is denied for those who drink.

Luckily. there are people who realize the underlying causes of alcohol use in some of our veterans. The following editorial really is insightful in it’s stand on our vets and their unique factors leading to homelessness. We have wounded veterans in the ranks of our homeless population who need help and services to heal their wounds. Isn’t it about time we realize that homelessness is a symptom of combat and actively seeks ways to heal our heros?

____________________________________________

Are We Turning Away Veterans?

Safety is a laudable goal. Ironically, many who will be turned away from shelter are those who have put their own lives on the line for the safety and freedom of our country.

A recent report from the Journal of the American Medical Association states that military personnel returning from combat are more likely to turn to the bottle to ease painful memories and shocking experiences of the war than those who did not see combat. This study scientifically links combat duty and alcohol consumption, and we all know veterans from past wars who’ve suffered the same pathway to alcohol use. Drinking eases pain, and experiencing homelessness must be painful.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness data tell us that on any given night, veterans make up 26 percent of the homeless population, and more than 50,000 veterans across the country are chronically homeless (homeless for more than one year). There are an estimated 5,000 homeless veterans in Connecticut. Who are we turning away in New London?

The president is leading a charge to end veteran homelessness, building upon the successful Housing First movement. Recent data indicate that in many cities and regions we are succeeding in ending long-term chronic homelessness, beginning with a community commitment to provide housing options for every one of us. Between 2005 and 2007, there was an astounding 30 percent reduction in the chronically homeless population.

The public cost savings of housing the chronic homeless are well documented, as people in housing with appropriate levels of support services decrease their use of emergency room, hospitalization, mental health, police and jail services. In New London, the choice to turn people away who have a blood alcohol level above 0.08 could lead to increased public dollars expended on ambulance and emergency room care.

In New London and across Connecticut, we can expand our network of housing and human connections, supporting each person as he or she moves along recovery paths back to health, safety and community membership. As communities, we can choose cost-saving policies that support the rebuilding of capabilities.

Our freedom to choose begins with providing shelter from the storm and listening, not turning away.

Jamie Taylor

Avon

The writer is a consultant on housing and homelessness.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________ 

 AnAmerican

 

 

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