A Link to Ending Veteran Homelessness (Part 2)
By Thom Wilborn
Countering Armstrong’s concerns for the future of homeless veterans is the VA’s determination to end the tragedy. Dougherty believes the effort is going well. “Homelessness is a tragic situation,” he said, “particularly for veterans.”
He cited the recent decline in homeless veterans. “In 2011, we had 67,495 homeless veterans, and we expect to have 8,834 fewer in a year. Our plan is for it to drop to 59,000 or less this year and 35,000 or less next year.” In 2008, there were 200,000 homeless veterans on the street on any given night.
Dougherty said the numbers of homeless Vietnam and Gulf War veterans are declining, but are increasing for Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, which is what VA expected. “These veterans have had multiple deployments and have different illnesses and injuries than veterans from previous wars,” he explained. “We now have post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.”
“We as a nation are still learning what concussions mean. At ages 23 or 24, the veterans may seem to be OK,” he said. “But as they grow older these injuries will have more effect on them. We need to get them to the VA to determine their baselines to follow their health for a lifetime.”
Another issue for homeless veterans is the economic problems they face when they return home. Unemployment and a weakened economy are hammering the men and women called heroes. Among the homeless problems is that there were 73,000 veterans in default of their home loans last year.
“We are finding ways to provide supportive services for mortgage payments,” he said. “We’ve provided 85 grants for $60 million to keep veterans in their homes or to rapidly get them into new housing. Homelessness is avoidable if we are getting them into housing.” About 60,000 veterans have been aided by the VA at-risk program.
Another growing problem is the planned cutbacks in military personnel which will require service members to build new lives. “There’s going to be a significant downsizing of the military,” Dougherty predicted. “Many of these veterans haven’t planned for life after the service. VA needs to provide the resources to prevent them from getting into a homeless condition.”
But the VA doesn’t expect that some day in 2015 it will declare that there are no homeless veterans, and end the program. “There will always be a need for prevention of homelessness,” he predicted. “But we’ll have less need.” That means less funding will be needed, and homelessness can be resolved early before veterans are forced to live on the “unforgiving, relentless and dangerous” streets that Rivera found. As Dougherty likes to see it, “the goal is matching services for veterans.”
“The VA goals are parallel to the Charitable Service Trust,” said Marbes. “The Trust provides funding for many programs that address homelessness and financial crises for injured and ill veterans. This progress is supported by the public donations in support of the veterans who most desperately need our help.”
“Without continued work to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness among our nation’s disabled veterans—untreated injury and mental illness, delayed or withheld benefits and unemployment—progress remains precarious,” Marbes said. “There are 1.5 million veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless. And tragically, women veterans—and their children—are suffering this fate more and more frequently.”
“DAV has been a great partner and recognizes homeless veterans as a serious issue,” Dougherty said. “The Charitable Service Trust has helped the programs to give veterans housing and productive jobs.”
A pledge to the Trust through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), United Way or other workplace giving campaigns is one critical way to help serve fellow veterans who have sacrificed their blood and health for America. For more information on the Trust, visit http://cst.dav.org
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