It’s no secret that veterans often find themselves at a disadvantage when exiting the military. Financial difficulty, family stress, and uncertainty about job prospects can often be a formula for disaster for these veterans, and many wind up homeless.
But then there are other veterans who become victims of their own irresponsibility, and are branded as such for years to come.
According to the LA Times, a study among Post-9/11 VA patients from 2001 to 2011 showed that around 5.6 percent were discharged from the military for misconduct. However, that small percentage accounted for over 28 percent of veterans who became homeless in their first year after leaving the military.
Note that this does not include service members with a “dishonorable” discharge, as they are not eligible for VA services. The group surveyed here was discharged for misconduct – usually drug, alcohol, or unauthorized absence offenses – and are usually given an “other than honorable” or “general” label on their DD-214, which still qualifies for some VA services.
The percentage of veterans discharged honorably who became homeless within the first year was roughly 1 percent.
But the question is: is being discharged from the military without an “honorable” status an indictment on the person’s true character? Or is the code assigned to their discharge symptomatic of a preexisting issue?
There’s no universal truth to either question. But for these service members who are tagged with chronic misconduct, I believe that this is only a microcosm of what is more likely to happen in their future.
More often than not, economically disadvantaged people are much more prone to substance abuse than their counterparts. This sets up veterans in this category negatively after their military service, especially since an unexpected discharge from the military is the same as a loss of employment.
Even service members who are preparing for life after the military often struggle in the transition, so it certainly makes sense that those who are dismissed for misconduct will be even more likely to become homeless.
Without arguing the merits of one’s discharge, how can the VA and DoD work to combat this trend among troubled service members?
There is no simple answer to this question, but if we really want to end veteran homelessness, we need to be more proactive than reactive. A plan to combat these issues needs to be formulated so that we don’t add to the 50,000 veterans without a home.