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History of Veteran Homelessness Awareness in the United States

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Society
Wordcount: 3543 words Published: 18th May 2020

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History of the Problem

“Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations” (Tsai, 2019). These words, put differently, address the overall purpose for social welfare existence, that is, justice for humanity. Throughout the history of our country, Veteran Homelessness is an issue that one could describe as a constant revolving door. For centuries, veterans of war and battle have been facing a disadvantageous circumstance when being discharged from their placement, that is, their overall welfare. Statistical Data, according to the brief entitled War and Homelessness: How American Wars Create Homelessness Among United States Armed Forces Veterans states the following: Homelessness in the United States dates back to the colonial era, and rising numbers of “vagabonds” were noted in urban areas in the wake of the Revolutionary War” (Kusmer & Markee, 2003). Due to this growing circumstance, the Mayor of New York, Richard Varick, stated that beggars “multiply on our Hands to an amazing degree” (Kusmer & Markee, 2003), and as a result, “overcrowding in jails, workhouses, and almshouses led to the construction of a new four-story facility in 1796” (Kusmer & Markee, 2003). Put differently, veterans have been fighting homelessness as early as the late 1400’s, and an increased population of beggars arose during the late 1700’s era of the Revolutionary War. Precisely, welfare facilities were congested and overpopulated as a result. Entering the mid 19th century, our country was faced with a multitude of battles and wars that would follow into the 21st century, which historically outlines the significant evolvement of veteran homelessness over time.

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According to the book titled Homelessness Among U.S. Veterans, it states the following: “Homelessness among Veterans spans the history of the United States and has been documented as early as the Reconstruction Era in the 1860s and 1870s” (Tsai, 2019). The Reconstruction consequently led to famine, demise and displaced veterans. Following the Reconstruction era, the American Civil War took place from 1861 to 1865. In the span of four years, America faced an upswing in homelessness among veterans, noting “the country entered an economic recession for several years, and there were thousands of new homeless, including Veterans” (Tsai, 2019). American Veterans were then faced with an oppressive structural post-barrier known was World War I. In July of 1932, “When veterans of World War I returned home in the early 1920s, they petitioned Congress to offer some sort of compensation for lost wages; military pay was far below what they could have earned at home in the factories” (Weber, 2015). In other words, an uproar began between veterans and the government, who were not compensating lost earnings to WWI Veterans. This antecedent cause led to “a confrontation between homeless vets and U.S. military personnel so outraged the public that it swayed a presidential election and had major repercussions” (Weber, 2015). This hostility resulted in a battle in which President Hoover commanded armed soldiers to destroy the homes of veterans who protested for their wages. There is a perfect example of talking about rights of our veterans being taken away, the freedom to petition, free speech, the very first amendment! This was just the beginning of veteran homelessness as The Great Depression was the next event in American history to occur, affirming: “veterans became part of the destitute masses who had no money, no food, no jobs, and, in some cases, no homes” (Weber, 2015). This evidence confirms that the growing number of unemployment “nationwide reached nearly 24% that year” (Weber, 2015), therefore nearly a quarter percentage of citizens in the United States, including our veterans, were at a loss for health and welfare. If this was not a barrier in itself, war would continue its path as World War II occurred. By now, evidence is proving the correlation between post-war and lack of veteran welfare. World War II was another example of an antecedent that caused veteran homelessness. Following the war, “In New York City, demand for emergency shelter rose in the late 1940s, with as many as 900 men bedding down in the Lodging House Annex (later the Municipal Shelter) on East 3rd Street in the 1948-49 winter” (Kusmer & Markee, 2003). Simply put, veterans were sleeping wherever they could seek shelter, especially during the winter seasons. Veteran Homelessness took another rise during the Vietnam War. In this war, it is factually noted that “During the war and its aftermath, it is estimated there were more than 50,000 homeless Veterans in a given night” (Tsai, 2019). This was indeed, another decline in our country’s welfare benefits for our veterans. Mental health was an important factor that Popple drew on. Specifically mentioning the Hospital Survey and Construction Act of the 1950’s, Popple states the following: “…the V.A. committed its facilities to training programs in psychiatry, clinical psychology, and what was then known as psychiatric social work” (Popple, 2018, p. 269). In other words, this act helped reform mental healthcare for our veterans, which identified proof that “The problem of the mental health of the nation revealed by the disturbing findings of draft screening and military psychiatric problems was addressed in the postwar years by two federal initiatives” (Popple, 2018, p. 269). Put differently, the overall objective was to provide a surplus amount of mental healthcare facilities and welfare for veterans in need. This evidence proves that Popple clearly outlines the correlation associated with mental healthcare needs and veterans who have experiences immense trauma. Trauma, as mentioned earlier, was linked as an antecedent to homelessness among our veterans.

At last, we are introduced to 21st century America. From 2009-2015, the Federal Government fought to put an end to Veteran Homelessness, once and for all. Through the Veterans Affairs, reconstruction and “billions of federal dollars have been spent on homeless programs and services for Veterans” (Tsai, 2019). Let us not forget the other battles and wars of honorable mention, including the Korean War, Persian Gulf War, invasion of Afghanistan, and so many more.

Present status of the problem

Obstacles that prevented the ability for reform can be found in a study conducted on trauma exposure and Post-traumatic Syndrome Disorder, one of many mental disabilities that escalated the need for more mental//emotional welfare assistance. According to a study from Military Medicine, “Theoretical formulations and prior research on veterans exposed to combat trauma have found that combat trauma increases risk for homelessness indirectly, through substance abuse, psychiatric disorder, and low social support” (Carlson, Garvert, Macia, Ruzek & Burling, 2013). Simply put, one status of the problem is that when military personnel are sent into combat zones, they can come out, coping with a traumatic experience faced. The National Academic Press cited the following: “In 2017, 40,056 veterans were experiencing homelessness, accounting for 9 percent of the population of adults experiencing homelessness. (HUD, 2017b), due to an increase in veterans staying in unsheltered locations” (The National Academic Press, 2018). Statistically speaking, veterans are living in intermittent conditions, preventing them from seeking proper healthcare and resources. We then look to a program like the V.A., otherwise known as the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. While seen as an affair that handles and addresses the welfare status of our country’s Veterans, an issue with the V.A. is found in the lack of doctors and healthcare workers. This evidence is supported from the New York Times, stating “Veterans’ hospitals, which treat seven million patients annually, have struggled to see patients on time in recent years, hit by a double crush of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aging Vietnam veterans” (Steinhauer & Philipps, 2019). In other words, veteran patients are not being seen, therefore, this is only enabling the increase of homelessness and mental health instability among Veterans.

Populations Affected or Disproportionally Affected

Veterans make up the population disproportionally affected by homelessness and lack of welfare, but it should be noted that veterans come from all walks of life. Factors to consider include the battle/historical time that the Veteran fought in, along with race, gender, ethnicity, and a variety of cultural backgrounds. Statistics demonstrate the following: “Homeless veterans tend to be male (91 percent), single (98 percent), live in a city (76 percent), and have a mental and/or physical disability (54 percent)” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015). In other words, the veterans who are homeless can be broken down into categories based on the aforementioned factors above. into percentages, including identifying the demographic of documented Veterans. It should also be noted that the demographic of Black Veterans is noted to be 39%, and are “substantially overrepresented among homeless veterans” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015), while actually accounting for “only 11 percent of the total veteran population.” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015). As seen in this documentation, this is just a proportion of homeless veterans based on race alone. Put differently, America has evolved over time in the different demographic populations that represent Homeless Veterans. One could look back to the history of the problem and see that the population affected include any Veteran who fought in our county’s World Wars, Battles, Invasions, etc. Aforementioned, veterans come from all around the world, and each have their own experience to highlight. It is stated that as of today, “homeless veterans are still most likely to be males between the ages of 51 and 61 (43 percent) and to have served in the Vietnam War” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015). Following this data, one can simply identify that almost half of the percentage of homeless Veterans are older males who most likely served in the Vietnam War.

Policy Advocacy

Efforts to respond to the identified problem of Veteran Homelessness Awareness are mentioned both historically in time, and currently. Following the fate of the American Civil War, welfare assistance for veterans was revitalized through The Sherwood Act of 1912, an act that covers and “extends military pensions to all Veterans. Union, Mexican, and Civil War Veterans now automatically receive pensions until the age of 62 years, regardless of injury or disability” (Tsai, 2019). The Sherwood Act, in other words, presented veterans with financial stability to get back on their feet, and live a humane life. Had it not been for the GI Bill of 1944, “Homelessness would have continued to affect many thousands of World War II veterans” (Kusmer & Markee, 2003). Now, we are thoroughly introduced to the GI Bill, otherwise known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. This act, according to the book titled Homelessness Among U.S. Veterans, “provided returning veterans unemployment compensation and financial resources for education to help them reintegrate after military service” (Tsai, 2019). At last, America saw amends being made for our veterans, as they are the ones who sacrificed their lives for our country. President Barack Obama, in 2015, along with previous First Lady, Michelle Obama, declared a new alliance. This alliance, called the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness took on a plethora of contributors to end veteran homelessness. It is stated that “The First Lady has received pledges from 702 mayors, 9 governors, and 172 county and city officials to end veteran homelessness in their communities” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015). In other words, our government utilized its highest power to help gather a support system that would envision an ending to homelessness amongst veterans, from state to state, and coast to coast.

Current Policy and/or Programs Addressing the Problem

Social Welfare policy is closely related to the issue of Veteran Homelessness. The justice and accommodations for the welfare of Veterans are entirely laid out in the 83rd edition of a book titled What Every Veteran Should Know. Legislative deviations, at a macro-policy level, have helped advocate for Veterans. According to the book titled What Every Veteran Should Know, it states: “…the Decision Ready Claims initiative or DRC, that aims to provide faster decisions on disability claims for claims for increased compensation (claims for increase)” (Veterans Information Service, 2019). As a result, veterans can expect a solution to their problem “within 30 days after the claim is received by the VA” (Veterans Information Service, 2019).

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In regard to veterans who are homeless, this is a human right that they can utilize to advocate for their needs. The information, however, needs to get out there. The VA collaborates with different programs to help end homelessness for veterans. There is a crisis hotline, specifically for homeless veterans, in which they can dial 1-877-4AID-VET, to inquire about the type of help they can get.

The VA and HUD are partnered to combine “HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help veterans and their families find and maintain permanent housing” (Veterans Information Service, 2019). This partnership symbolizes how awareness and advocacy is present, not just for homeless veterans, but for those who may become homeless, including those who have families. There are temporary programs like “Stand Down,” which accommodates veterans to engage in a three-day program that provides them basic needs, including food, water and necessities. Social work plays a role in this area, specifically “…Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment” (Veterans Information Service, 2019).

Supportive Housing programs are integrated within the community, generally provided with funds through the VA. Programs like Supportive Housing help homeless veterans get back on their feet, aim for individualistic goals, etc. Another program, called the DCHV, otherwise known as The Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans, helps to provide “…biopsychological treatment and rehabilitation to homeless veterans,” (Veterans Information Service, 2019), even serving “approximately 5,000 homeless veterans with health problems each year” (Veterans Information Service, 2019). Mental health and self-determination goals play a key component in helping homeless veterans reestablish themselves within the community. Lastly stated: “The success of SSVF, HUD-VASH, and other programs targeted to veterans, combined with the dedication and commitment of America’s communities prove that ending veteran homelessness is possible” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2015). In other words, America is seeing shift in the issues associated with veteran homelessness, but there is still work to do.

Future Policy Directions

As a policy advocate for Veteran Homeless Awareness, I would promote universal economic security, just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did himself. At the micro policy level, I would advocate for veterans who are puzzled by policy complication. According to the chapter, Jannson states the following: “Welfare, education, correctional, health, immigration, child welfare, and many other service organizations are complex institutions with multiple professions, administrative staff, internal units, and linkages with myriad external organizations. Their staff uses complicated jargon” (Jannson, 2019, p. 77). Put differently, complicated jargon can be misleading and confusing, especially for homeless veterans who may have experienced trauma exposure from combat, war, battles, etc. Reform, on my end, would include building a team from the ground up, and reaching out to the V.A. and veterans who are doing well for themselves. In doing this, gathering veterans with knowledge, would not only help breakdown the linguistic barrier of healthcare benefits for veterans, but also establish a rapport and trust for homeless veterans who may feel vulnerable or misunderstood.

At the mezzo-policy level, I’d like to draw on the following chapter of Jannson: “Challenge 4: Analyzing Why the Problem Exists” (Jannson, 2019, p. 116). In other words, Jannson advocates for finding the precursor/cause of the problem, which in this context, is veteran homelessness. Gathering evidence through researching state records/census, and anecdotally observing the populations of homeless veterans, would help establish a baseline. This statistical baseline data could then be used to compare the number of homeless shelters in each state vs. the number of homeless veterans in that respected state. Getting veterans off of the streets starts with finding them, learning their background, and reaching out to local community organizations that could help provide me additional resources to connect veterans with shelter, vocational skills for training and employment.

Advocating at the macro-policy level could involve researching links between our government’s attachment to the enormous amount of funds that are stored away. There could be help in utilizing funds from Federal Relief Programs and gathering a team to propose ways in which we could be using those funds to build more residential facilities. In return, this would help create jobs to help get veterans off of their feet. Simply mentioned in the book titled Learned Helplessness, Welfare, And The Poverty Cycle, it states the following: “….government support-such a food aid and health care- can encourage people to seek and keep jobs by helping them to stabilize their lives” (Heitkamp, 2019). Without government aid, out veterans will continue to suffer on the streets.


  • Carlson, E. B., Garvert, D. W., Macia, K. S., Ruzek, J. I., & Burling, T. A. (2013). Traumatic Stressor Exposure and Post-Traumatic Symptoms in Homeless Veterans. Military Medicine,178(9), 970-973. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-13-00080
  • Heitkamp, K. L. (2019). Learned Helplessness, Welfare, and the Poverty Cycle. New York: Greenhaven Publishing.
  • Jansson, B. S. (2019). Social Welfare Policy and Advocacy (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Kusmer & Markee, (2003). War and Homelessness: How American Wars Create Homelessness Among United States Armed Forces Veterans. Coalition for the Homeless
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2015, April 22). Veteran Homelessness.
  • Popple, P. R. (2018). Social work practice and social welfare policy in the United States: A history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Steinhauer, J., & Philipps, D. (2019, January 12). V.A. Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars Into Private Care.
  • The National Academies Press. (2018). Permanent Supportive Housing: Evaluating the Evidence for Improving Health Outcomes Among People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness. Washington, DC.
  • Tsai, J. (2019). Homelessness Among U.S. Veterans: Critical perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Veterans Information Service. (2019). What Every Veteran Should Know. East Moline, IL.
  • Weber, B. (2015, December 09). WWI vets got the short end of the stick in the Great Depression. This was their answer.


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