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Homeless Veterans a Vulnerable Population

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Homeless Veterans a Vulnerable Population
Vulnerable populations are often used to characterize groups whose needs are not fully addressed by traditional service providers (Blue-Howells, J., McGuire, J., & Nakashima, J., 2008). These people believe they cannot comfortably or safely access and use the standard resources offered. They include physical or mental disabilities, limited or non-English speaking, geographic or cultural isolation, medical or chemical dependent, homeless, frail/elderly and children. Homeless veterans are examples of a vulnerable population. In this paper, the demographics and the present state of homeless veterans will be explored. Learning that veterans are considered part of a vulnerable population was not necessarily surprising given the physical and mental condition along with advanced age of many veterans. However, what is alarming is there are far too many veterans who are homeless. What makes this knowledge alarming is most Americans including myself believe veterans should be living a healthy and successful life as compensation for their sacrifice for our country (Wills, 2008).
Many people in the United States think the needs of veterans are the responsibility of the government (Wills, 2008). In an ideal situation, the federal government would provide veterans with access to employment, housing, retirement or a pension, and free health care. These services are needed because of many health risks, physical or mental placed upon soldiers in war zones. These risks can develop into disabilities, which can limit the productivity of veterans leading to unemployment. If these veterans remain unemployed, they cannot care for their families or themselves. Because of this, the government must assume the responsibility of ensuring our veterans, are granted the kind of life we as a nation owe to them. Moreover, the government must remain sensitive and address the needs of veterans. However, when viewing the current homeless situation, I was surprised to find that veterans make up the majority of the homeless population (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2010a). These veterans are unable to provide their own shelter, find and maintain employment, and in general take care of themselves. Veterans are those who have served in the United States armed forces during the Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and any other military campaign or occupations such as the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The definition, which is perhaps more defining is “A veteran is someone who at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’” (Author Unknown, n.d.). I have recognized that I had developed a bias in that I did not realize that many of the young, homeless, drug addicted patients which I have cared for have been veterans. I realized that I had considered their addictions and homeless status was not caused by a selfish act of trying to find a euphoric high, but a means of self-medicating to deal with the stress inflicted upon them as a result of their selflessness in serving our country. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 40% of the total homeless populations are veterans. This means on any given day there are approximately 200,000 veterans roaming around this nation homeless (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2010a). According to the Veterans Affairs (VA) Greater Los Angeles (GLA) Healthcare System, there are 21,424 homeless veterans in the GLA service area (Blue-Howells, J., McGuire, J., & Nakashima, J., 2008). Most of the homeless veterans are Caucasian, highly educated, and are currently or have been married. Four percent of homeless veterans are female, and the majority of these females suffer from psychological illnesses and mental disabilities, because of their experiences during war (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2010a). The majority of homeless veterans are between 20 and 34 (McMurray-Avila, 2001). Almost half of the homeless veterans served during the Vietnam War. These homeless veterans make up 23% of the total population of the homeless in the nation. Of the total population of homeless veterans, the majority belongs to the underprivileged class of society; and half of homeless veterans are dealing with substance abuse and psychological illnesses. A problematic issues exhibited in homeless veterans is post-war shock and trauma (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2010b). I have recognized that I had developed a bias in that I did not realize that many of the young, homeless, drug addicted patients which I have cared for have been veterans. I realized that I had considered their addictions and homeless status was not caused by a selfish act of trying to find a euphoric high, but a means of self-medicating to deal with the stress inflicted upon them as a result of their selflessness in serving our country. Several factors and causes influence the homelessness of veterans, such as the unemployment, rising costs of housing and quality of life, their inaccessibility to health care services, etc. Some of them have experienced working; however, the insufficient amount of salary influences their ability to pay for housing and other basic needs and commodities for their everyday lives. Moreover, some lack the capacity to be employed because of the psychological and mental disabilities they have acquired because of their experiences during war. In addition, their inability to access health care services because insufficient funds hinders them from obtaining medications and health services they need to stay well and healthy (Blue-Howells, J., McGuire, J., & Nakashima, J., 2008). Studying the needs of the homeless veteran population, a survey was conducted to determine the most significant need of that specific population. Forty-five percent of the respondents said they needed assistance in being employed, while 37% of them needed assistance in paying for housing costs (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2010b). The benefits and services provided to the veteran population should be coming from the Department of Veteran Affairs. However, the allocation of benefits and grants are dependent upon the quality of service and personal behavior of a veteran (McMurray-Avila, 2001). Aside from the need of available low priced housing costs and employment, the homeless veteran population’s access to health care services is the most important because most reasons for their inability to be employed are health related, i.e. psychologically ill or mentally disabled (such as post-traumatic stress disorders), physically disabled, etc. Significantly more homeless veterans have a chronic medical condition and two or more mental health conditions as opposed to their not-veteran counterparts (O'Toole, T., Conde-Martel, A., Gibbon, J., Hanusa, B., & Fine, M., 2003). If they stay unemployed and unproductive for the rest of their lives, they shall not be able to raise funds for housing costs. Therefore, they shall also remain homeless for the rest of their lives. Health care plays a significant role in moving the homeless, especially veterans, off the streets.
The new veterans from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be the majority of veterans. With these new veterans, we will see many problems we saw during the Vietnam-era and they will be recurring in huge numbers. These needs will create a huge health care and financial burden for the government and the people of this nation. For this reason veteran groups have been pushing for the VA to do more; however, the government still expects charities to fill in the gaps. It is estimated that 30 to 40% of these veterans will develop problems with drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental-health problems (Wills, 2008). As the federal government develops the necessary services to care for our veterans these gaps, services, and assistance will have to be filled at the state and community level. On a positive note, despite the negativities encircling the issue about homelessness, poverty, unemployment, etc. especially to the veteran population, there are still several organizations and groups sensitive to the growing needs of homeless veterans. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, for instance, is involved with disseminating information to the public about the current situation of homeless veterans of the United States. Moreover, the organization takes it as a moral duty to stay vigilant about the regulations and policies of the government about public service and homeless veterans. The organization stays updated with the actions the government takes to implement these policies. For instance, the organization reviews the Homeless Veterans Assistance Act and tries to evaluate if the government is taking giant efforts to see to it the act is fully implemented, thus, leading to an efficient distribution of benefits and grants to the homeless veteran population (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2010c). The situation of the homeless veteran population should be looked into, not only by the government but also by individuals. In reviewing our history, we get to reflect on the importance of veterans to the present situation of the nation today. They have made sacrifices to serve the country by going into war, even if it threatens their safety, their lives, and the future of their families. It is only moral to be supportive of them as the wars they have experienced are part of our history. It is easy to understand why the people of this nation believe the government and the entire nation owe a great deal to this population and why helping them today is one of the ways by which we can repay them. Informing the people about the current situations of homeless veterans as well as several other vulnerable populations is important to raise the public and the government’s awareness of the needs and demands of vulnerable populations in general. This knowledge allows government officials, private organizations, and even citizens to lend a hand in assisting homeless veterans into establishing a new life. For instance, the government should push efforts to provide housing, employment, and free health care services to homeless veterans. Learning significant information about vulnerable populations, such as homeless veterans, should be enough to push the government into allocating funds for housing and opening organizations that will be able to cater to the employment needs of homeless veterans. Moreover, public health care programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, should be freely accessible to veterans; thus, leading to a wider scope of free health care services and improving the quality of life, health and well-being of homeless veterans. Private organizations should also get involved in the process of rehabilitating the lives of homeless veterans by putting up charitable institutions or implementing community volunteerism; and citizens should be able to join and support efforts geared toward the needs of the homeless veteran population.

References

Blue-Howells, J., McGuire, J., & Nakashima, J. (2008). Co-location of health care services for homeless veterans: a case study of innovation in program implementation. Social Work In Health Care, 47(3), 219-231. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.
McMurray-Avila, M. (2001). Homeless Veterans and Health Care. Retrieved April 4, 2008, from NHCHC. Website: http://www.nhchc.org/Publications/HomelessVetsHealthCare.pdf
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans . (2010a). Homeless Veterans. Retrieved April 20,
2010, from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Website: http://www.nchv.org/media.cfm
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. (2010b). Background and Statistics. Retrieved April
20, 2010, from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Website: http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. (2010c). Policy and Legislation. Retrieved April 20,
2010, from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Website: http://www.nchv.org/legis_05-06-03.cfm
O'Toole, T., Conde-Martel, A., Gibbon, J., Hanusa, B., & Fine, M. (2003). BRIEF REPORTS Health Care of Homeless Veterans Why Are Some Individuals Falling Through the Safety Net?. JGIM: Journal of General Internal Medicine, 18(11), 929-933. doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.21209.x
Wills, D. (2008). Charities Scramble to Provide Housing and Health Care to Veterans. Chronicle of Philanthropy, 20(11), 3. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

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