Military Sexual Trauma Tied to Greater Risk of Homelessness

Veterans who experienced sexual trauma while in the military are twice as likely to become homeless at some point compared to veterans who did not experience sexual trauma, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Military sexual trauma (MST) is defined as the experience of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment while serving in the military. Approximately 25 percent of females and one percent of males in the military report being targets of MST.

“Some of our men and women in uniform face challenges after they return from service and post-deployment homelessness is an extreme case of poor community reintegration,” said Adi V. Gundlapalli, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher with the Salt Lake City VA Health Care System, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine and corresponding author on the study.

“Our work adds to the body of knowledge to identify factors associated with homelessness among Veterans with the ultimate goal of mitigating the risk. A positive MST screen status turned out to be a marker for homelessness in the absence of further diagnostic information.”

For the study, researchers analyzed the records of 601,892 veterans (average age of 39) who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. A total of 18,597 reported MST, including 14,092 women and 4,505 men during a screening process.

Of those who had reported MST, nearly 12 percent of men and nine percent of women experienced homelessness at some point within five years of seeking Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care after leaving the military. This is more than twice the rate of those who reported no MST when screened. The link with homelessness was independent of other factors including mental health and substance abuse diagnoses.

“Male and female veterans who report MST are more vulnerable to homelessness both in the short- and long-term following their discharge from the military, with males at differentially greater risk,” said first author Emily Brignone, B.S., a Utah State University (USU) doctoral candidate.

“These findings underscore the importance of trauma-informed care and trauma-specific interventions for veterans with a positive screen for MST.”

The higher rate of homelessness among vets who reported MST is seen not only in the long term but also immediately after discharge. The findings show that among those who experienced MST, 1.6 percent were homeless at some point within 30 days of being discharged and 4.4 percent were homeless at some point within one year.

Each of those rates is more than twice as high as homelessness among vets who did not report MST, the authors found.

“Our goal is to raise overall awareness of military sexual trauma, including the impact on male veterans, and associated adverse outcomes such as homelessness,” said study co-author Rachel Kimerling, Ph.D., an expert in military sexual trauma at the VA Palo Alto, Calif., Health Care System.

“We hope all veterans with a history of MST will avail themselves of the free care offered in the VA for management of MST-related conditions.”

Source: University of Utah Health Sciences
Female soldier photo by shutterstock.