One out of four homeless are veterans, and though there hasn't been a very comprehensive study of just Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the VA estimates at least 1500 homeless veterans of the current wars. I'll bet you everything I got that the number is significantly higher.
There are a number of wonderful groups doing all they can to find these veterans and get them into housing. But that's not enough. The real point to this tragedy is buried in the AP story:
"The Iraq vets seeking help with homelessness are more likely to be women, less likely to have substance abuse problems, but more likely to have mental illness - mostly related to post-traumatic stress, said Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at the VA."
The VA finds that, overall, 45 percent of participants in the VA's homeless programs have a diagnosable mental illness. We know from previous studies that greater than 30 percent of Iraq veterans coming home have some PTSD. Those studies were done before third deployments and 15 month extensions. And, remember, sometimes PTSD takes years for manifest itself. So bank on the number with PTSD being higher by war's end and in years after.
And yet, the process for mental screening is deficient, as are the number of qualified people within the DoD and VA health systems to diagnose and treat PTSD. This doesn't even address the severe VA underfunding that simply keeps veterans from getting the care they need.
It was just reported this month that two VA hospitals in Florida were turning veterans away, because they couldn't deal with the load. The money crunch, as well, has the agency pinching pennies and setting the bar for PTSD, and full disability, very high. I had a soldier call me last year requesting a memorandum from an eyewitness officer from Iraq that could validate the soldier had in fact been in combat, despite the fact that the army had already concluded that this soldier was suffering from PTSD! These are the hurdles that are set up.
So, here's how it goes. A veteran goes to the VA, if they can get in, because something is just not right in their mind. Instead of PTSD, they're told they have "adjustment disorder" or a preexisting mental condition, neither of which allows them to collect disability. They don't get the right treatment, allowing their mental condition to worsen. They simply cannot hold down a job, they don't get disability, and, not surprisingly, they cannot afford a place to live and become homeless.
There is no blood test that can tell if you have PTSD. It's not a simple injury to find -- an injury to your psyche. And, until this administration gets serious about greater funding and a real strategy to deal with this coming tsunami, it doesn't matter how many wonderful charitable groups are out there, trying to find and house homeless veterans, because we'll just be dealing with the result -- homelessness -- rather than the root cause - PTSD.
Oh, and by the way, the president is vowing to veto the Labor-HHS bill which includes $3.4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provides mental health and suicide prevention services, and $23.6 million for the military veterans that comprise a quarter of America's homeless population in the Homeless Veterans Program.
The alarm is blaring, but who is listening?
Jon Soltz, is Co-Founder and Chair of VoteVets.org.
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