Homelessness is on the rise amongst female Veterans, a group that is at four times greater risk than their male counterparts. With women making up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. active duty military, and 20 percent of the National Guard and Reserve, VA estimates there are currently 1.8 million female Veterans.
Most homeless female Veterans served during conflict periods – Vietnam, the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Increases in female deployment, currently estimated at 182,000 for OIF and OEF versus 41,000 in the Gulf War, correlate with females suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the two greatest causes of homelessness in this population. Other contributing factors include substance abuse, physical and mental health issues, and military sexual trauma.
Since 1999, VA Social Worker Erin Smith has gained a real understanding of these complex issues as she has fought to eradicate homelessness amongst Veterans.
“I find the work incredibly rewarding, but also challenging as there are so many different issues to tackle in a day,” she said. Smith, who worked for many years at Crisis Ministries, understands that women tend to resist asking for services, but is thankful that is starting to change as is proven by more women coming to the VA for help.
The Charleston VA’s Homeless Program operates 12 walk-in regional clinics where Veterans who are homeless, or fear becoming homeless can receive medical care and referrals for assistance. The walk-in clinic located at the VA medical center is open Monday – Friday, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Counseling, transitional housing with facilities for women and children, and specialized care for Veterans suffering from PTSD or who have experienced military sexual trauma are available. VA also offers employment assistance such as the compensated work therapy program to get homeless Veterans back on their feet.
VA partners with community organizations, legal assistance and job training programs to meet Veteran needs. VA provides transitional housing through local nonprofit shelters, and partners with Housing and Urban Development to provide the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program that moves Veterans into permanent subsidized housing.
For more information on VA’s Homeless Program, call (843) 789-7953