Remember our homeless veterans: both men AND women

Every year on November 11, we pay tribute to our veterans who have fought or are currently fighting to protect our country. This Veteran’s Day, when you picture our brave soldiers what image will come to mind? Men? Women? How about a single mother? There is no doubt that all of our military personnel, regardless of gender, should be commended for what they do or have done to protect our freedom. Unfortunately, there are a large number of veterans returning from combat only to face a different kind of battle: homelessness.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states over 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Of that 107,000, females account for an estimated 5%. While the number is relatively small, it is significant in that the number has nearly doubled over the past decade. There have been many programs initiated over the years to assist struggling soldiers; however, there are still not enough resources to meet the specific needs of women. In fact, according to Peter Dougherty from the VA, only 300 out of the 500 VA-run homeless shelters can accept women.

The number of facilities able to assist female veterans narrows even more if you are also a single parent. Currently, only eight out of the 300 centers offer services to veterans who are single mothers. The lack of assistance is troubling, especially since females are four times as likely to become homeless than are men, and at a faster rate.

In addition to the main contributors to homelessness, veterans often have to deal with the traumatic memories of being in combat. These painful memories often lead a soldier to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the VA, this disorder can “disrupt your life” and “make it hard to continue with your daily activities.” Some other common problems listed that can lead a veteran to becoming homeless are depression, broken relationships and employment difficulties.

Women who are dealing with PTSD can often have an added complication to the anxiety disorder. Almost three-quarters of females have experienced some form of military sexual trauma (MST) while serving. The U.S. Department of Defense defines MST as rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Women are often reluctant to seek help for these anxieties as, even in this modern age, they don’t want to appear less capable than men.

At the Coalition, we typically refer our clients who are veterans to the VA for veterans’ services. So far this fiscal year, we have served almost 150 documented veterans. While the majority are men, we found that 3% of the homeless women staying at the Coalition’s Center for Women and Families are veterans.

We hope today, when you are celebrating the lives of those who have fought for our freedom, you will also remember the thousands of homeless veterans – both male and female – who are living on the streets they once protected.