Veteran Homelessness Still Rising in Many Parts of the Country While the National Rate is in Decline
Nearly forty-six hundred people are homeless in Louisiana and it is predicted that one out of every four is a U.S. veteran. In the United States, there are more than 27 million veterans to whom the Veterans Administration only serves an estimated 13 million.
President Donald Trump vowed to the American people that he would create solutions for Veterans in his 2016 presidential campaign.
From Tweeter Donald Trump announced,
“Our great VETERANS are being treated very badly because of corruption and incompetence at the V.A. That will stop, I will fix this quickly!’’
With just over three years of his first term complete, the evidence of his accomplishments should be visible in the data.
Unfortunately, the Veterans Administration has always been characterized as shady by many and although recent incidents took place under the Obama administration, it is important to recognize former President Barack Obama for his efforts after the most recent scandals that likely exposed the severity of injustice happening within the Veterans Administration.
Defining homelessness can be difficult and pinning exact numbers on any given day is hard to accomplish. But, the literal term for category one homelessness is an individual or family that lacks a fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence. This is often the situation that comes to mind when you hear the term homeless.
There are more than four major categories used to define homelessness and there are also multiple reasons for the cause of homelessness. The leading cause of homelessness in the United States is affordable housing, but not all categories are associated with housing costs. Other causes contributing to homelessness include fleeing homes due to domestic violence, sex trafficking and substance abuse.
Veterans the VA and Health Care
When it comes to veterans, it’s important to understand that as many as 80% are battling with mental health-related issues that often fuel substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), homeless veterans are predominantly single males who live in urban areas and are experiencing mental health and/or alcohol and substance use challenges.
Dr. Timmothy Reinwold, a clinical psychologist with the Veteran’s Administration clinic in Hammond, said, “There are a lot of them who deny help because they want to continue to use drugs and alcohol and a lot of them have to post-traumatic stress disorder.” Reinwold has worked for the VA for ten years and specializes in substance abuse counseling.
In 2014, the VA finally added the straw that broke the camel’s back when approximately 40 veterans died awaiting care in a Phoenix Veteran’s hospital. CNN reporting indicated that these patients were on a secret list designed to hide lengthy delays from VA officials in Washington.
The VA is not new to scandals and corruption; as a matter of fact, the government has always struggled to pay back the debts to the men and women who served. Veteran care and government failure have been tied as one dating back to the Revolutionary War were the government failed to honor promises of health care to thousands of wounded soldiers.
History would later go on to tell us time and time again that veterans would be lied to, cheated, left behind and misled by Washington in every era of war to this day.
The scandal that took place in 2014 was inherited by former President Barack Obama and he should be commended for his actions following the revelation of events. Obama made it clear he would not stand for the mishandling of our Veterans and immediately ordered an investigation into Veterans Administration.
The investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs would ultimately shed light on a world of secrets. Most notably investigators found that in several cases across multiple regional facilities, veterans were subject to unusually long weighting periods to see a doctor. Many facilities were understaffed and veterans had very little access to mental health.
As reported by the New York Times, “According to the agency’s most recent data, 526,000 veterans are waiting more than a month for care. And about 88,000 of them are waiting more than three months.”
In 2014, former President Obama took action that led to the signing of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, a 15 billion dollar bill that was designed to provide veterans with access to health care outside of the Veteran Administration along with increased mental health access.
With only two years to monitor its success, it is yet to be determined if his legislation had any effect on Veteran’s health care. The New York Times reported in 2016, “The average wait time for primary care has gone up slightly since 2014, according to the data. More troubling, the number of veterans waiting longer than 30 days has increased by nearly 50 percent.”
It was a great effort by the former president, and regardless of the outcome, everyone would agree it was a step in the right direction. Some actions would be better than no action and former President Obama likely was the spark that lit the fire for change in veteran’s health care.
Donald Trump and Veteran Health Care
Donald Trump, as predicted by the T.V show The Simpsons, came down the escalator in Trump Tower and announced his entrance into the race for the White House. For other Americans, this scene sparked anxiety and fear.
2016 gave us everything from riots to meme wars, and Trump single-handedly blew up social media when he launched the first-ever social media-driven campaign, growing to nearly seven million followers at the end of 2016.
Trump made it very clear that he would be the president of the veterans. He made claims that veterans’ health care was still just as unsuccessful as it has always been and he promised the American people that he would get the job done on Veteran health care.
The Mission Act signed by President Donald Trump is likely the most comprehensive veteran’s health care reform ever passed through congress. It was a shoe in with bipartisan support and it gave the largest expansion of health care to our nation’s heroes in nearly 25 years.
Similar to the Choice Act of 2014, the Mission Act expanded on those initiatives by expanding the number of walk-in and urgent care facilities, producing timely payments to physicians, an issue could be linked to the unsuccess of the Choice Act.
To say the least, President Trump has made it clear that public speaking is not his forte and he has been known for misrepresenting, misleading and mischaracterizing all forms of people, places and things. In June of 2019, The Hill ran an article titled, “Trump takes credit for passing veterans bill that passed under Obama.” This article blasted President Trump for taking credit for
the Choice Act that Obama signed in 2014. Maybe the similarities confused President Trump or maybe his ego got away from him. Either way, both presidents have made effective and decisive decisions in regard to Veteran health.
However, none of this means anything without the veteran’s point of view. Clay Shook, a Louisiana native and a United States Air Force veteran discharged in 2012 explained, “ When I got out of the military, I wanted nothing to do with them (VA).” Shook had little knowledge at the time that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and this was fueling his animosity towards getting help. In 2017 facing a major life crisis, he reluctantly walked into the VA and sought help.
Shook would later go on to explain his experiences with the VA since he has begun receiving help, “When I first started I thought it was subpar, but as time went on it has progressively gotten better.”
Like so many veterans, Shook left the military with the wrong interpretation of the VA and like many, he would go on to have great experiences in the end. Unfortunately, there are many more like Shook who still refuse to seek help, which may possibly be linked to the rise in veteran homelessness.
In both presidencies, we have seen major legislation passed in an effort to enhance the well being of our nation’s veterans. Veterans are now gaining access to physicians and hospitals outside of the VA’s network.
Astonishingly with no regard for the policies or health care for that matter, our veterans are still facing a major homelessness crisis right here in Louisiana. The reality is that homelessness is actually increasing regardless of healthcare or policies. Pinpointing the population of homeless veterans can be difficult.
With one in four homeless individuals being veterans, we can only estimate that nearly 1100 veterans seek refuge in Louisiana. However, with the VA only having insight on half of America’s veterans we can only estimate.
Dane Blankenship, the senior director for Quad Vets in Hammond helped shed even more light on homelessness here at home when he thoroughly explained that, “In our area, in this part of Louisiana it’s been increasing. Um, people have for some reason began migrating to the Hammond area,” he said.
Blankenship went on to explain how the situation has been monitored and the results. He continued to state, “We do a survey once a year with the Northshore Homelessness Association, a point and time survey, and in that time it also shows an increase in homelessness for veterans here.”
Understanding the rise in homelessness could be difficult to understand. Blankenship explained that it is important to remember that many of these veterans that you see come from really good homes. He noted, “Guys tend to self medicate or not know how to medicate and it causes them to come estranged from their families.”
There is hope for ending veteran homelessness. In fact, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development Website, there are over thirty cities that have registered as a veteran homelessness free city. This information and more about veteran homelessness please visit.
HUD and the VA have also joined together to create a program known as the HUD-Vash, which is specifically designed to get help to veterans facing homelessness or at risk for homelessness. So if you know a veteran that may need assistance, follow the link to HUD-Vash
Veteran homeless is not a new subject and in one way or another, we have all been exposed to the scenes of homelessness, rather at home watching the nightly news or stopped at the red light on your way home from work.
The fact is that all though we may never fully understand the driving force behind the rise in veteran homelessness, it has been made clear by the last administration and the current administration that the VA will no longer go unchecked and we can all hope the same will continue in all administrations moving forward, so we can continue to restore the honor and dignity to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our great nation.