Homeless Veterans

In the Washington Post today, following on the Post‘s extraordinary series about Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reporter Christian Davenport takes an important look at the problem of homelessness for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs provided shelter for only 300 veterans of the two wars from 2004 to 2006, Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Post that this number fails to include the “others sleeping in buses, their cars or on the streets.” Rieckhoff said his group alone has helped 60 veterans since 2004–and that’s just in New York City.

Army studies suggest that “up to 30 percent of soldiers coming home from Iraq have suffered from depression, anxiety or PTSD… [and] that those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to suffer from acute combat stress.” But the VA says that there is no causal connection between combat exposure and homelessness. Local shelter providers disagree, and retired Army Col. Charles Williams–executive director of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training–says that the increased demand for shelter is on its way. “The wave has not hit yet,” he told the Post, “but it will.”

Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, would probably agree. Last month Filner cited that there are 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night, and how this speaks to the importance of getting the Veterans Administration to treat post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness. Filner co-sponsored the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act, which would guarantee full health care funding, including mental health, for US veterans of the Iraq war and other conflicts.