WASHINGTON — Advocates for the homeless already are seeing veterans from the
war on terror living on the street, and say the government must do more to ease
their transition from military to civilian life.
Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless
Veterans, said about 70 homeless veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan
contacted her group’s facilities in 2004, and another 125 homeless veterans from
those conflicts last year petitioned the Department of Veterans Affairs for
“It’s not a big wave, but it’s an indicator that we still haven’t done our
job,” she said. “I think that our nation would be very embarrassed if they knew
The group, founded in 1990, is a national network of charitable organizations
designed to provide resources and aid for homeless veterans.
Veterans Affairs officials estimate that about 250,000 veterans are homeless
on any given night, and another 250,000 experience homelessness at some point.
Boone said the reasons behind the veterans’ housing problems are varied: Some
have emotional and mental issues from their combat experience, some have trouble
finding work after leaving the military, some have health care bills which
result in financial distress.
George Basher, director of the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs,
said he believes guardsmen and reservists are particularly at risk because they
often bypass resources like the Transition Assistance Program when they return
“Those are the ones most likely to have private health insurance, so they’re
likely to show up at an HMO looking for treatment and not a VA hospital,” he
said. “There’s no central place for treatment.”
Still, Pete Dougherty, coordinator for the Veterans’ Affairs Department's
homeless programs, said veterans today have more options — outpatient
facilities, counselors, job training programs — than the troops returning from
the Vietnam War.
“Most of the folks we’re seeing now are worried about losing their homes and
think they won’t be able to afford to stay in them,” he said. “Before, the vets
were out there but were unseen and unnoticed. Now we can reach out and make a
But Boone added that most veterans don’t seek help for mental and emotional
problems for years after their return from combat, meaning the problem of
homelessness among war on terror veterans will likely grow.
“We’re still going to have homeless veterans because we haven’t tackled how
to deal with the separation issue,” she said.
For more information on resources for homeless veterans, call (800) VET-HELP
or visit www.nchv.org.
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