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The Problem of Veteran Homelessness: An Update for the New Decade

  • Jack Tsai
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Jack Tsai, PhD, School of Public Health, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 1200 Pressler Street, Houston, TX 77030.
    Affiliations
    VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, District of Columbia

    Department of Management, Policy and Community Health, UTHealth School of Public Health, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas

    Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
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  • Robert H. Pietrzak
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, West Haven, Connecticut
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  • Dorota Szymkowiak
    Affiliations
    VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, District of Columbia
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Published:February 11, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2020.12.012

      Introduction

      There has been a decade-long federal commitment to prevent and end homelessness among U.S. military veterans. Substantial progress has been made; so, a question that stakeholders ask is: Is veteran homelessness still a problem?

      Methods

      To answer this question, 2 different data sources were analyzed in 2020: (1) a nationally representative community survey of 4,069 veterans conducted in 2019 and (2) national administrative data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on >6 million healthcare and homeless services in 2019.

      Results

      In the community sample, the lifetime prevalence of adult homelessness was 10.2%, with the highest prevalence found in participants aged 30–44 years (19.9% prevalence). In the Veterans Affairs administrative data, 4.2% of all Veterans Affairs service users used homeless services (n=290,515 Veterans Affairs homeless services); 27.9% of these were first-time Veterans Affairs homeless service users. Veterans who were racial/ethnic minorities were more likely to report any lifetime adult homelessness, more likely to be identified as homeless in Veterans Affairs records, and more likely to have used any Veterans Affairs homeless program. There was no sex difference in the lifetime prevalence of homelessness, but Veterans Affairs records showed that male veterans were more likely to be identified as homeless and to use homeless programs, suggesting possible underidentification of female veteran homelessness. Across age, sex, and racial/ethnic groups, 35.1% of Veterans Affairs homeless service users used emergency department services in the same year.

      Conclusions

      There is a continued need to dedicate resources to address veteran homelessness across sociodemographic groups, and these data serve as a benchmark before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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