Tuesday, July 07, 2009

You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

One statistic that is always included when discussing the homeless population in this country is the number of homeless veterans, most from the Vietnam era. That statistic is beginning to grow as more veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars return. Like their comrades from the earlier war, the new homeless suffer from untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse.

There are, however, some significant differences in this new demographic. Many suffer from the kind of undiagnosed and untreated head injuries that weren't a part of the earlier war. And now, unlike the Vietnam era, many are women, something the Veteran's Administration hasn't had any experience in dealing with. Since many of these women are also single parents, the homeless experience is even more difficult.

The Boston Globe carried an article yesterday on the issue and on the little that has been done so far to address the problems these women face.

The number of female service members who have become homeless after leaving the military has jumped dramatically in recent years, according to new government estimates, presenting the Veterans Administration with a challenge as it struggles to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As more women serve in combat zones, the share of female veterans who end up homeless, while still relatively small at an estimated 6,500, has nearly doubled over the last decade, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For younger veterans, it is even more pronounced: One out of every 10 homeless vets under the age of 45 is now a woman, the statistics show.

And unlike their male counterparts, many have the added burden of being single parents. ...

Overall, female veterans are now between two and four times more likely to end up homeless than their civilian counterparts, according to the VA, most as a result of the same factors that contribute to homelessness among male veterans: mental trauma related to their military service and difficulty transitioning into the civilian economy.

But while veterans’ services have been successfully reaching out to male veterans through shelters and intervention programs, women are more likely to fall through the cracks.

“While the overall numbers [of homeless vets] have been going down, the number of women veterans who are homeless is going up,’’ Peter Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a telephone interview.
[Emphasis added]

Women soldiers have all sorts of burdens that men soldiers haven't necessarily had to face, including sexual abuse from their own comrades and the disparity that still exists with respect to pay when they come out of the service, assuming, of course, that they are able to find a job. Many also are custodial parents, which means that even if they can find a job, they will need child-care assistance of some sort. These kinds of problems are new to the VA, which has been underfunded for years to begin with and hasn't developed the kind of expertise to deal with these issues because they've never had to in the past.

There finally has been some recognition of the problem in Congress, and legislation is being worked up to address it, according to the article:

In recent days, senior members of Congress have called for an expansion of some of the VA’s programs to ensure they are properly suited to meeting the needs of the growing female population.

“Women veterans and veterans with children often have different needs and require specialized services,’’ Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat of Washington and a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former Army officer, also believes more women-focused veterans services are needed. ...

They have sponsored legislation that calls for $50 million in extra funding over the next five years to allow the Veterans Affairs and Labor departments to make special grants to homeless veterans with children, including for transitional housing.

This is at most a beginning, but at least it's something. I urge you to contact your senators and insist that they support such a bill, especially if either of them serve on the Armed Forces Committee. I've already sent off an email to Sen. Barbara Boxer (who actually responds to emails in a fashion that indicates that either she or one of her aides has actually read it) asking her to co-sponsor the bill. When I can be civil, I will also send an email to Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

This is too important to let pass. We made the same promises to the women who chose to serve as we made to the men. The fact that their needs might be different than their male counterparts should be irrelevant. They served and faced the same dangers. They've earned our support.

Do it.

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Blogger ERG said...

I truly hope this program works better than the one implemented to reduce suicides in the military.

How we allow the government to treat members of the armed forces is a travesty.

5:11 PM  

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