Women coming home from military service are joining the ranks of the homeless in the U.S.
The male former service members who become homeless after returning to the States largely do so when battling mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. Female vets come home with those issues as well as a tougher time finding gainful employment and housing. Even more often, these women come home with issues stemming from military sexual trauma, or MST, which can cause or exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is estimated that there were more than 140,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. as of 2011, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number is expected to rise as more troops come home this year. Of that 140,000, almost 10 percent are women, an increase from 7.9 percent as of 2009. Women service members now comprise 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves, and 14 percent of active-duty forces.
Female vets face issues that can make them particularly vulnerable while trying to assimilate into civilian life. Dr. Donna L. Washington, of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center and professor of medicine at UCLA, calls what these women face a “web of vulnerability” due to the military sexual trauma, the lack of affordable family housing and the low re-employment rates. Female vets are more likely than their male counterparts to be single parents, but more than 60 percent of the transitional housing programs which receive Department of Veterans Affairs grants either do not accept children, or have restrictions on the number of children accepted and their ages.
A recent study led by Dr. Washington found that approximately 53 percent of homeless female veterans reported that they had experienced military sexual trauma, and a significant number of women who joined the military did so in part to escape troubled family environments or abuse.
The White House has pledged to end homelessness for vets by 2015, and is working on permanent voucher programs. Congress has also allocated $300 million to work on homelessness prevention by offering short-term emergency money to vets so they can make a housing down payment and pay utility bills. And new legislation was recently introduced to reimburse vets for child care while in transitional housing.