Veterans at Risk for Homelessness Long After Military Discharge
Homelessness among U.S. military veterans rarely happens immediately after discharge, but instead can take years to manifest with the risk becoming greater over the next 15 years, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The findings reveal that this “sleeper effect” delay is often seen among veterans who served before the Persian Gulf War era, as well as in more recent groups from the post-9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The study points to the long-life cycle leading to homelessness among veterans,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Jack Tsai, research director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans in Tampa, Florida.
“It often takes years for problems stemming from military service to build up before a veteran becomes homeless. The team and I found that the risk increases exponentially over time in the period 5-15 years post-military discharge.”
For the study, the research team looked at data from two nationally representative samples, including the records of 275,775 homeless veterans who used the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services from 2000-2019, as well as a 2018 population-based community survey of 115 veterans with a history of homelessness.
The average time between discharge and homelessness was found to be 5.5 years in the VA sample and 9.9 years in the survey sample.
Major factors linked to longer discharge-to-homelessness periods include service in the Vietnam War, younger age at military discharge, income, and chronic medical and psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression and alcohol abuse).
The findings reveal that some medical and psychiatric conditions take time to develop and do not quickly lead to homelessness but follow a more chronic course that, if untreated, can eventually lead to homelessness.
Deployments to the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were significantly linked to shorter duration between discharge and homelessness, a phenomenon that is increasing.
Among homeless VA service users discharged from 2000 to 2008, it took 10 years or more for 10 percent to become homeless; among those discharged from 2009 to 2014, more than 10 percent were homeless seven years after discharge. This finding reflects earlier research showing that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience considerable difficulties with social adjustment.
“Understanding what happens to people after they leave the military and at what point they become homeless is important for policymakers, service providers, veterans, and their family members in order to prevent new generations of veterans from becoming homelessness,” said Tsai.
“Those who end up homeless have very low quality of life, and developing strategic early interventions at various stages after military discharge can mitigate that risk.”
Interventions focused on chronic health conditions and social adjustment are crucial to prevent homelessness among these veterans.
The research also highlights the effect of certain socioeconomic issues, such as the lack of affordable housing, unemployment and barriers against subgroups (women veterans with children and veterans with cognitive impairments).
Pedersen, T. (2020). Veterans at Risk for Homelessness Long After Military Discharge. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/05/07/veterans-at-risk-for-homelessness-long-after-military-discharge/156301.html