Written by William & Mary Student Haley Morton

Veterans make up a disproportionate segment of America’s homeless population.[1] In many cases, veterans are at risk for homelessness because of PTSD and disabilities occurring in service. In fact, nearly half or more of newly-homeless veterans were diagnosed with a mental health disorder before separating from service.[2] Because of sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country, some of which led to veterans being at risk of unstable housing, the government should bear the responsibility to find solutions to remedy veterans homelessness.

The federal government has taken initial steps to solve the problem. In 2009, the Obama Administration announced its goal to end veteran homelessness with “Opening Doors.”[3] This policy mobilizes communities, local governments, and employers to work together to end homelessness and create more stable societies.[4] On its face, the goal of eradicating homelessness may cause some to worry about the cost of such efforts. Yet studies show that it is not only more compassionate, but also more cost-effective in the long run for the VA, state governments, and local communities to eradicate homelessness than it is to leave homeless veterans seeking healthcare without stable housing.

There are two approaches to veteran homelessness. The first is a contingency-based program, where veterans must successfully complete substance abuse programs and mental health treatment, when necessary, to secure permanent housing.[5] The second is a “Housing-First” program that provides veterans with stables and permanent homes first and subsequently offers treatment services as needed. So far, Housing-First has resulted in more veterans sustaining permanent housing and has lowered the overall healthcare cost. In the contingency-based program, the average cost of healthcare for a homeless veteran is approximately $23,472.08 per year.[6] When veterans suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues and are offered contingency-based housing, they are not likely to continue with the program, due to continued relapses or other incapability.[7] However, when veterans were provided with permanent housing first, without contingencies, they were more likely to complete treatment programs.[8]

More importantly, average health care costs for previously-homeless veterans decreased to $16,041.25 per year.[9] Additionally, emergency room visits and hospitalizations decreased.

[1] “Homeless Veterans Fact Sheet.” National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2016,

http://www.nchv.org/images/uploads/HomelessVeterans_factsheet.pdf

[2] Media Information, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2016, http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/media_information/#Risk%20Factors

[3] “VA Is Working to End Homelessness Among Veterans.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,

2016, http://www.va.gov/homeless/about_the_initiative.asp

[4] O’Toole, Thomas P. “Innovative Efforts to Address Homelessness Among Veterans.” North

Carolina Medical Journal, vol. 76 no. 5, 2015, pp. 311-314.

[5] Id.

[6] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Housing First Implementation Brief, VA National Center

on Homelessness Among Veterans, 2014, http://www.va.gov/homeless/nchav/docs/Housing%20First%20Implementation%20brief.pdf

[7] O’Toole, supra note 3.

[8] Id.

[9] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, supra note 5.