U.S. federal law defines homelessness as people who do not have a permanent, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Determining how many are homeless remains a problem. Part of the difficulty is the relative invisibility of homeless people, who, for their safety, often choose to remain hidden to avoid criminal victimization or possible arrest. Since vagrancy is considered a criminal offense in many jurisdictions, homeless people are often driven further underground, and the living conditions in which they live are usually far from a satisfactory minimum. Currently, the most significant problem is that measures to combat homelessness among veterans are insufficient, and the causes of the phenomenon have not been adequately examined.
Veterans without a place to live are a special social group with inherent characteristics. Approximately 56% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic (Cormack, 2018). About 53% of individual homeless veterans have a disability, compared to 41% of non-veteran homeless individuals (Cormack, 2018). California has the highest number of veterans living on the streets. About half a million (467,877) veterans are seriously burdened by rent and pay more than 50% of their income (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). More than half (55%) of veterans with heavy rent burdens are below the poverty line, and 43% receive food stamps. About 45% of the 1.6 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan apply for disability compensation (Cormack, 2018). Payments range from $127 a month for 10% disability to $2,769 for total disability (Tsai, 2018). Veterans are not much different from civilians when it comes to homelessness. They have to cope with the lack of affordable housing and economic hardship that everyone faces, in addition to the problems caused by the aftermath of service.
Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, and anxiety disorder, which often occurs after severe emotional trauma related to killing civilians, threatening their own lives, or physical trauma. There are 3 million new cases of PTSD each year in the U.S., and most of these people are veterans, a disorder that can manifest years after returning from war (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). In general, American society only became more aware of the problem after the Vietnam War (Cormack, 2018). Lack of economic stability and economic hardship were some of the main factors that led to the explosive growth of this phenomenon in the post-Vietnam War period. In addition, veterans of recent conflicts have been affected.
Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq often face the invisible wounds of war, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, which are exacerbated by alcohol, drugs, and homelessness. According to official data for 2018, 20% of all veterans regularly take sedatives, painkillers, drugs, and alcohol (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). Drugs, up to and including heroin, are turned to by those who have no money for normal medication. And this happens because drug companies constantly inflate the price of the most necessary drugs. From 2011 to 2019, the number of prescriptions for painkillers written by military doctors increased fourfold, from 1 million to 4 million (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, military personnel are 2.5 times more likely to abuse prescribed painkillers than civilians (2020). Mental disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction are the main reasons former military personnel end up in hospitals.
Significant progress has been made by 2020 in securing housing for homeless veterans. This is due to connecting them to rapid re-housing through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Family Supportive Housing program and permanent supportive housing through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH) (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). In 2019, the HUD-VASH program was able to house more than 11,000 veterans. In 2015 alone, the SSVF program helped nearly 100,000 veterans and about 35,000 children stay in their homes or move quickly out of homelessness (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). Similarly, more than 144,000 homeless veterans have been served through the HUD-VASH program since 2008 (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). Many other programs have been instrumental in addressing veteran homelessness, including outreach, job placement, transitional housing, and substance abuse treatment. The Salvation Army has joined the fight to end homelessness in the general population, including veterans. More than 78 communities and entire states in Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia have effectively ended homelessness among veterans. Food and overnight accommodations are provided for those in need at various times. Education, counseling, and career assistance are also currently available.
Despite the significant progress in this field, more needs to be done to ensure that no veteran remains homeless. Statistics analysis shows that progress is not enough, and the effect of numerous social and psychological factors has not been minimized. Such global problems as drug addiction, and mental disorders are among the most significant factors that cause homelessness. Besides, all communities need a system that provides temporary housing for every veteran who becomes homeless while they search for permanent housing and any necessary services.
The relevance of the issue of homeless veterans is determined by the fact that after more than 20 years of trying to solve this problem, the statistics remain disappointing. These days, a combat veteran in the United States is twice as likely to be homeless as a civilian (Fischer, 2020). There are few studies devoted to this problem, including mostly statistical data. For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department conduct annual data on the situation, but qualitative studies examining causes and solutions are lacking.
The research question is: How can we improve the effectiveness of existing measures to deal with homeless veterans? This question is of significant importance within the framework of sociology, as it covers the problems of a considerable part of the population. Along with this, the study will allow sociologists to analyze in more detail such socially significant phenomena as mental disorders in the population and, in particular, in veterans and drug addiction in military men who have completed their service. The issue is a part of macro sociology as it is connected with numerous global problems.
The issue of family breakdown will be explored in the context of this study. People often return from war seriously changed, unrecognized by their wives, children, parents, and friends. As a result, the likelihood of a family breakdown is increased almost tenfold compared to any other non-veteran family. Community organizations are aware of the causal link between participation in hostilities and family breakdown, but they never mention it anywhere. Divorce victims themselves often see no connection between their military background and loneliness.
However, the issue of socialization also remains unexplored. Many veterans go off to war in their youth and return home 10-15 years later in search of civilian life and a family they never manage to have (Kitching, 2022). They carry with them physical and emotional scars that the women around them may not understand. Veterans have the lowest marriage rate and the highest divorce rate, and currently, one in five veterans have always lived alone, and one in three is divorced (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). The factor of mental disability in veterans and ways to deal with it will be discussed. Since 2009, the rate has remained unchanged at 22 voluntary resignations per day (Kinder & Higgins, 2022). The main cause of mass suicide of combatants is connected with PTSD and requires the development of psychological support programs.
The researcher will also conduct a study of existing organizations and foundations whose activities are aimed at helping service members in difficult situations. The history of their activities, the main difficulties, and the causes of organizational failures will be studied. Based on this material, the researcher will develop a list of requirements for the foundation or organization that must be met for veterans’ advocacy activities to be more effective. The final part of the paper will also outline the prospects for working with this issue at the state level.
The results and issues of the study will be helpful to organizations that support veterans, as well as to the service members themselves and their families who are experiencing hardship. Sociologists and community leaders will see that there are prospects for improvement and that many levers have not yet been used to address the problems. Moreover, the plan developed in the study will allow active-duty veterans to be more optimistic about their future as ways to support them continue improving.
Cormack, L. (2018). Congress and U.S. veterans: from the GI bill to the VA crisis (Conflict and today’s Congress). Praeger.
Fischer, R. L. (2020). Echoes of our war: Vietnam veterans reflect 50 years later. Rlfischer_books.
Kinder, J. M., & Higgins, J. A. (2022). Service denied: marginalized veterans in modern american history. University of Massachusetts Press.
Kitching, E. H. (2022). Sex problems of the returned veteran. Emerson Books.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). Federal benefits for veterans, dependents, and survivors: updated edition. Skyhorse.
Tsai, J. (2018). Homelessness among U.S. veterans: critical perspectives. Oxford University Press.