The Battle After the War

Some of the main factors which may lead to homelessness are physical disabilities or mental illness, as well as drug or alcohol abuse. According to a 2010 study, 26.2% of all sheltered people who were homeless had a severe mental illness, while 34.7% had chronic substance abuse issues.[1] Unfortunately, many veterans returning from wars often find themselves afflicted by a multitude of these issues. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the percentage of individuals within the homeless population who are veterans is much higher than the percentage of veterans in the overall population.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has now been observed in alarmingly high number of military veterans. The National Institutes of Health states that PTSD may develop after a terrifying ordeal involving physical harm or the threat of physical harm. You don’t have to be physically hurt to have PTSD. PTSD can also develop after you see others harmed or threatened. It is often linked to feelings of depression or anxiety as well as substance abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates, PTSD affects 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11 percent of Afghanistan War veterans, and 20 percent of Iraq War veterans.[2]

veterans substance abuse

While some psychological illnesses can be treated with medication, there is a growing concern about prescription drug abuse among veterans. According to a 2008 Department of Defense Health Behavior Survey, prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2001 to 2005 and nearly tripled from 2005 to 2008. Furthermore, a survey of recently returning Iraq war veterans showed that 27 percent met the criteria set for alcohol abuse.[3]

These two factors result in feelings of defeatism among some military veterans. Many veterans feel that nobody can truly understand what they have been through so they find comfort in associating with other veterans who have shared their experiences. These feelings of defeatism and loneliness were summed up perfectly in a 1987 New York Times article by Bruce Kepley, a homeless veteran who has been hospitalized with psychiatric problems eight times since his 1981 discharge:

“I’d like to be around people who’ve been through the same things I’ve been through. And I need work, any kind of work. I can’t get a job doing what I was trained to do – no one wants an armed killer. The war is never over. You drink one too many beers and it pops up. The jets fly too low, and I jump. Sometime, I hope to settle down somewhere where I won’t be reminded of what I’ve seen. But I really don’t see a future for myself.”[4]

People with mood disorders or any substance use disorder are at least two times more likely too have been homeless than those without these diagnosis.[5]

These factors can often affect an individuals social and adaptive functioning and their ability to learn new information and skills.[6] They also may lead to feelings of disconnect from family members which can lead to a lack of familial support.[7] As these issues intensify and begin to include others such as the inability to find and maintain a steady source of income, homelessness can follow.

veteran home

The horrors of war last long after any soldier returns home. Their experiences often have profound impacts on their lives. Unfortunately, these experiences lead to an alarmingly high rate of homelessness among veterans; about 45% of homeless veterans experience mental illness and 70% experience alcohol of other drug abuse problems.[8] This leads to a disproportionately high level of veterans within the homeless population. Veterans make up 9% of the homeless population but only 5% of the general population.[9] While there is no surefire solution for homelessness among any population, it would be a travesty to give anything less than our full efforts to try and solve this grave problem.

[1] Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States. Rep. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, July 2011. Web. 10 July 2013.

[2] “Feature: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD: A Growing Epidemic / Neuroscience and PTSD Treatments.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009. Web. 10 July 2013.

[3] “Topics in Brief: Substance Abuse among the Military, Veterans, and Their Families.” Substance Abuse among the Military, Veterans, and Their Families. Nation Institute on Drug Abuse, Apr. 2011. Web. 10 July 2013.

[4] Lewin, Tamar. “Nation’s Homeless Veterans Battle a New Foe: Defeatism.” New York Times 30 Dec. 1987: n. pag. Print.

[5] Greenberg, G.A. & Rosenheck, R.A. (2010) Correlates of past homelessness in the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 37, 357-366

[6] Spence, S. Stevens, R., & Parks, R. (2004). Cognitive dysfunction in homeless adults: A systematic review. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97, 375-379

[7] Burt, M.R. et al. (1999). Homelessness: Programs and the people they serve. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

[8] Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States. Rep. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, July 2011. Web. 10 July 2013.

[9] Zoroya, Gregg. “USA TODAY.” USATODAY.COM. USA Today, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 10 July 2013.

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