Study Shows 25% Of Homeless Vets Were Discharged From Military For Substance Abuse

By John Lavitt 10/19/15

Why have so many of our vets been abandoned on the streets?

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Researchers have found that roughly one in four homeless veterans had been kicked out the service for either alcoholism or drug use.

The veterans examined by the study were without housing at the time of their first visit to a Veterans Affairs medical center. The researchers from Utah State University and the University of Utah make a strong case for why the military should keep track of service members, even after they have been discharged.

Researchers considered records of about 448,000 active-duty service members who were deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq. The soldiers were separated from the military from October 2001 to December 2011. The authors hope their findings will spur VA centers to encourage veterans to apply for services after deployment.

"There's a step and a critical transition between the Department of Defense and the VA, where if we can get a sense of who's at greater risk, there's a chance to be proactive," said co-author Jamison D. Fargo, a Utah State psychology professor. "I think that's in the spirit of the military."

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study results could help caseworkers nationwide prevent veterans from going without shelter and becoming homeless. The goal is to foster an early intervention approach that offers troubled veterans rehabilitation, mental health, and housing programs. It is important to note that the group of veterans examined did not include anyone with a dishonorable discharge, which prevents service members from receiving Veterans Affairs benefits.

Researchers pinpointed homelessness by looking at medical records that indicated a "lack of housing." Among the veterans studied, the overall rate of homelessness was 0.3% at the time of their first VA encounter. That rate went up to 1% within a year and up to 2.1% within five years.

Overall, researchers found that just 5.6% of active-duty service members were discharged from the military for misconduct. The group of dismissed soldiers represents 25% of veterans who are homeless at the first VA encounter, 28% at the one-year mark, and 20% five years out.

The team found the leading cause of homelessness was a substance abuse problem that started in the military. Another issue is that many discharged troops were inadequately prepared for civilian jobs after deployment. Several struggled because they no longer had the same structure experienced in the military.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.