Do you ever wonder why so many veterans end up living on the streets? It bothers me that so many of the men and women who have given so much to ensure our freedom are homeless. It’s just wrong.
Some of the facts about homelessness in veterans include:
23% of homeless population are veterans
33% of male homeless population are veterans
47% Vietnam Era
67% served three or more years
33% stationed in war zone
25% have used VA Homeless Services
85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received Honorable Discharge
79% reside in central cities
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% white males compared to 34% non-veterans
46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
(Statistics are from the National Coalition for the Homeless)
Female homeless veterans represent an estimated 3% of homeless veterans. They are more likely than male homeless veterans to be married and to suffer serious psychiatric illness, but less likely to be employed and to suffer from addiction disorders. Comparisons of homeless female veterans and other homeless women have found no differences in rates of mental illness or addictions.
Veterans are homeless for most of the same reasons other people are homeless:
• Physical disabilities making it difficult to find or keep a job
• Pain issues
• Substance abuse
• Mental health issues
• Divorce and lack of social support system
In addition, many veterans have compounded issues:
• Inability to find a job upon returning home
• PTSD, TBI, amputations, and physical disabilities
• Pain issues and dependence on controlled substances
• Substance abuse related to PTSD
• Mental health issues – veterans who had mental health issues prior to enlistment find they are often compounded upon returning home as they are combined with PTSD. Returning veterans often find they developed mental health issues from exposure to active combat and the resulting stressors
• Isolation and lack of a social support system
Whatever the reason, the thought of our American heroes living on the street is hard to digest. There are special programs to help homeless veterans get the help they need to get back on their feet. You can reach the one the VA runs by calling 877-4AID-VET, or go to va.gov/homeless.
This week I visited Carol, primary caregiver for William her husband. William served stateside during the Korean War. It was obvious Carol was exhausted from caring for him. She told me she realized they needed help, but home care cost more than they could afford. She was wearing herself out caring for William, and if something wasn’t done, she was going to need a caregiver too.
I asked if she had contacted anyone about the Aid and Attendance Program the VA offers. The first part of the problem for most people in William and Carol’s circumstances is that they don’t know what programs are available through the VA to help. She replied she had asked someone at the American Legion and they told her William did not qualify since he did not have the required one day of active combat service.
Aid and Attendance (A&A) is a benefit that is paid in addition to a veteran’s basic pension. A&A is for veterans who need financial help for in-home care, to pay for an assisted living facility or a nursing home. It is a non-service connected disability benefit. That means the disability does not have to be a result of service. That brings us to the second part of the problem.
Unfortunately, not everyone you ask has the correct answer to the question. The VA has many benefit programs to help veterans, but because there are so many, sometimes your counselor may not be providing you with accurate information.
Don’t hesitate to ask for written information about the qualifications for programs you’re interested in learning more about. Ask someone else if you think the answer is incorrect.
We are applying for A&A for William…it is a benefit that can mean the difference between his remaining home or being admitted to a nursing facility.
As the saying goes, “When the veteran suffers from PTSD, the whole family suffers from PTSD.” It’s true, you know. You can’t live in the same house and interact with the other people there without sensing the feelings and attitudes of everyone in the house, at least to some extent. When one of the individuals living there suffers from PTSD, every other person in that home is aware of it too.
Some of the symptoms of PTSD that have a strong impact on family members include:
• Avoidance of anything that reminds the veteran of the trauma
• Detachment from others
• Emotional numbing
• Reduced interest in activities the veteran used to enjoy
• Sleep difficulties
When the veteran exhibits any of these symptoms, the family may respond by adopting that “waiting for the other shoe to drop” attitude. Everyone tiptoes through the house trying not to upset the veteran. With PTSD in the house, no one feels safe.
Children are often the most profoundly affected family members when PTSD is in the home. They may respond with anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and being unlovable, grief at the loss of the original relationship or at the loss of a stable family, feeling responsible and guilty for the veteran’s distress, along with anger, confusion and depression.
Fortunately, children usually respond well to treatment. With help from a therapist, children can learn to hope again, to be reassured, and to understand that PTSD may be causing their loved one to act differently than he or she normally would.
PTSD…if you can’t ask for help for yourself, then, please, do it for your family
I wonder sometimes if it isn’t easier fighting an enemy you can see vs. fighting something invisible like depression. Depression robs life of its joy and leaves you feeling empty and hopeless.
Some of the symptoms of depression may include:
• Depressed mood that lasts 3 months or longer
• Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
• Significant weight loss or gain
• Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep nearly every day
• Slowed thinking
• Fatigue or low energy
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Inappropriate guilt
• Inability to concentrate or make decisions
• Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
It’s interesting to note that men and women deal with depression in different ways; it is expressed differently.
Men are more likely to use drugs or alcohol, lose weight and have difficulty sleeping, become irritable and fly off the handle more often, behave recklessly, or commit suicide.
Women, on the other hand, are more likely to feel guilty, sad or hopeless, sleep and eat more and attempt suicide (but not succeed).
However you express your depression, life is just too short to live under a black cloud. The VA offers support groups for those suffering with PTSD. Please, check them out. I’ve heard only good things about the groups. If you don’t want to join a group, your local Community Mental Health has trained counselors who will listen and help you decide whether you are in control of your life or if your depression is controlling you.
Depression symptoms usually improve with counseling, medications or a combination of the two. Even severe depression symptoms usually improve with treatment.
There is life after depression. Please seek help and take back the joy in your life! It’s worth the effort.