Expert Commentary

Homeless veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan: Comparisons with previous cohorts

2012 report from Yale University in Administration and Policy in Mental Health on of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans versus earlier cohorts.

Homeless veterans, common in many cities and towns throughout the United States, account for between 20-25% of the overall homeless population. The Veteran’s Administration counted nearly 67,500 homeless veterans on a single night in January 2011; more than twice that number spent at least one night in an emergency shelter within the past year. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported in 2012 that, while the overall number of homeless veterans declined between 2009 and 2011, the number of female veterans without homes more than doubled. A 2012 study, “Prevalence and Risk of Homelessness Among US Veterans,” provides detail on the risk factors that link veterans status and homelessness.

A 2012 report from Yale University published in Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, “Homeless Veterans Who Served in Iraq and Afghanistan: Gender Difference, Combat Exposure, and Comparisons with Previous Cohorts of Homeless Veterans,” sought to better construct a demographic profile of veterans from recent conflicts most at risk for homelessness, and consider these profiles alongside those who served in earlier U.S. wars. The researchers utilized national administrative data from the Veteran Administration’s largest supported housing program — the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUDVASH) program — between January 2008 and April 2011. Approximately 2.23%, or 994, of the 44,000 homeless veterans referred to the program during the study period were veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Key study findings include:

  • “Unlike previous cohorts of homeless veterans, the majority of homeless [Iraq and Afghanistan war] veterans report combat exposure and have been diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder] PTSD … [and] do not receive any VA-service connected disability.”
  • Male homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars tended to be younger, were less likely to have a criminal record and spent less time homeless than veterans of other military conflicts. The typical homeless male veteran was an unmarried White male in his thirties who had experienced homelessness less than twice in the last three years.
  • Female homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars tended to be younger than earlier cohorts of veterans.  The typical homeless female veteran was an unmarried Black woman in her thirties who had experienced homelessness less than twice in the last three years and had never been incarcerated.
  • PTSD and/or a mood disorder afflicted 63% of male homeless veterans and 77% of female homeless veterans.  Of these, more than 90% of men and 75% of women suffered from combat-related PTSD. “Homeless [Iraq and Afghanistan veterans] have substantially higher rates of PTSD … compared to previous cohorts of homeless veterans and non-veterans in which only 8-12% had PTSD.”
  • Reports of psychotic disorders and substance abuse among homeless veterans dropped over time. Reports of psychosis fell from 7-21% in previous cohorts to 5% in homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; reports of substance abuse fell from 28-80% in previous cohorts to 38% in homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

The researchers conclude that the elevated rates of PTSD in more recent homeless veterans require more aggressive early intervention as well as assistance securing disability pensions for this population.

Tags: veterans, mental health, PTSD, war

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