Homes for Homeless Vets: Giving America's Heroes the Support They Deserve
Returning to civilian life after a successful career in the military is not always the smooth transition veterans imagine it will be. Veterans return to their hometowns only to find that their jobs are no longer waiting for them, or their service-related injuries or trauma make it impossible to hold a steady job. This can create a spiral of problems, making it challenging to thrive. Through no fault of their own, many veterans find themselves without a place to live, even after dedicating part of their lives to serve their country.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, veterans need the most help with suicide risk, homelessness and dealing with the realities of trauma. The USA Today warns that modern veterans are struggling to find jobs.
If you are struggling as a veteran, there is hope. Veterans are some of the biggest heroes of our nation, and many organizations have risen to help support and care for veterans so they can get the services they need to thrive. The key is to find those organizations and take advantage of the services they provide.
This guide is intended to help veterans who are struggling get the help they deserve. From help with homelessness to something as simple as a partner animal to help alleviate emotional trauma, these organizations, groups and services will support today’s vets so they can enjoy a full, thriving and healthy civilian life. Your local VA office is one critical place to look and from which to start, but there are lots of other options that are also available and that can give you further support wherever you need it most.
The Veterans Housing Problem
When a service member goes to war for our country, he or she expects to come home and enjoy a normal life after serving. However, for a large number of veterans, life becomes challenging to the point where many struggle to afford quality housing upon their return to civilian life. On any given night, around 76,000 veterans are sleeping on American streets without a home to return to according to Green Doors. With only 8 percent of the population claiming veteran status, a sobering 17 percent of the homeless population is made up of veterans. In fact, veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless than other Americans.
Why is this? According to Green Doors, the biggest risk factors for homelessness are lack of support and social isolation after turning to civilian life. Other causes include poverty and overcrowding in the housing that is available.
Thankfully, there are resources out there to help veterans overcome homelessness or avoid it if they are at risk. Through the efforts of these organizations, the number of homeless veterans is declining, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Still, for those veterans who are struggling with housing, declining numbers do not matter much. If you are a veteran who is at risk for losing your home, here are some steps to take to help.
- Talk to your lender. Before assuming that you will lose your home, talk to your lender. Lenders spend quite a bit when a home goes into foreclosure, and they may be willing to work with you.
- Ask about loan modification. Loan modification allows the lender to change the loan’s terms to reduce your monthly payment. It often extends the number of years that you have to repay the loan in order to make the monthly payment fit within your current budget.
- Ask about loan forbearance. Loan forbearance is an option wherein your mortgage provider temporarily suspends or reduces your monthly mortgage payment. If you’re dealing with a temporary shortfall and can get back on your feet with a little help, this is an option to consider.
- Be open with your landlord. If you are renting, talk to your landlord about your situation. Sometimes, simply having a conversation can help protect your housing situation.
- Call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans. Call 1-877-4AID-VET for guidance in avoiding homelessness.
If you are already homeless, here’s what to do:
- Consider transitional housing. Some organizations, like Operation Home Front, offer temporary transitional housing to help veterans get back on their feet. This housing is rent-free to qualified veterans and requires the veterans to undergo financial and occupational counseling to help them find work and be able to afford traditional housing options.
- Find a community-based organization for homeless veterans. Nearly every state and territory in the United States has at least one of these organizations.
- Get financial counseling and career help to get back on your feet. Organizations like VeteransPlus and American Consumer Credit Counseling offer counseling and outreach programs that can help veterans get a job and learn to manage their money more effectively, so they can avoid falling back into the homelessness trap after getting help.
Here are some specific organizations that offer help and support to veterans who are homeless or struggling to pay for their homes:
- Wounded Warrior Homes
- Green Doors
- National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
- The American Legion
- Homes on the Homefront
- National Alliance to End Homelessness
Medical Needs for Veterans
One of the lasting material benefits of going into the military is the medical care that service members get, both while they are active duty and when they return home and can apply for veteran’s benefits. While on paper this seems like adequate coverage, sometimes veterans find that their government benefits are either hard to get or are inadequate to cover their needs. This is particularly true for those suffering from service related injuries that requires ongoing medical care. Sometimes non-covered needs, like the need for an accessible home or the need for a full-time caretaker, are not covered under the medical benefits.
Why is this? First, access to VA medical care is difficult. VA hospitals can often be quite far from where a veteran is living, and if the vet is struggling with income and even homelessness, driving a long distance to get the VA medical care is impossible.
Also, as NPR reports, wait times for appointments have gotten far too long in many parts of the country. While the medical care is available and is covered by the VA, many vets cannot get it in a timely manner. Veterans with disability claims can wait a year or more to get their services, with appeals lasting up to three years according to the National Review.
Because of these long wait times and the challenges of getting to the appropriate cities, many veterans are going without the medical care they so desperately need. If you are struggling to get adequate medical care, here’s what you need to do:
- Find reliable transportation. Even if you find medical care, you won’t be able to take advantage of it if you don’t have transportation. Consider Recycled Rides, which offers reliable transportation to qualified veterans.
- Reach out to community healthcare centers for homeless or low-income individuals. There are many local organizations that offer free or low-cost healthcare services to those who are struggling with low incomes or homelessness. Find out if your area has one.
- Look up providers at the National Health Care for the Homeless Grantee Directory. This directory has a list of healthcare providers from around the country who are partners with Health Care for the Homeless programs. See if there is a provider near you that may be able to help.
- Check with the Wounded Warrior program for your branch of the military. These organizations have a wealth of resources to help wounded veterans get the services and care they need. They also have support for caregivers.
- Learn about grant options to make a home accessible. If you are in a house, but need help with accessibility, check out grant options that may help pay for the changes your home needs.
For additional help both for veterans in need of medical care and for their caregivers, visit:
- Air Force Wounded Warriors Program
- Marines Wounded Warrior Regiment
- Navy Wounded Warrior
- U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Help for Veterans
For many veterans, the struggles and difficulties of war lead to mental health concerns. The American Psychological Association indicates that almost a quarter of all veterans return from war suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious mental health concern that can lead to hospitalization, suicidal thoughts, drug abuse and similar problems. The same report indicated that 70 percent of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse problems and 45 percent have a mental illness.
Unfortunately, the services available through the VA for mental health concerns often do not meet veterans’ needs. Wait times are usually tremendously long, sometimes vets need to travel a long distance and cannot readily find transportation, and so many vets go without the necessary care to recover from these issues. This, combined with the stigma surrounding mental illness, causes few who need the help to actually get it.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that only about 50 percent of those returning service members who need help for mental health conditions actually seek it. SAMHSA also reported that between 2005 and 2009, over 1,100 veterans took their own lives, and the suicide rate reached an all-time high in 2012. While better information about mental health and better access to resources has helped the suicide rate to drop slightly, these statistics point to the serious, lingering issues that mental health concerns create for the modern veteran.
Substance abuse is another serious problem for today’s veterans. American Addiction Centers estimates that 7.1 percent of veterans have substance abuse problems. Addiction problems tend to be worse for veterans who experienced combat. Regardless of the reason, substance abuse creates serious problems for veterans, making it difficult for them to get work and maintain strong family relationships. Substance abuse and mental health concerns often go hand in hand.
If you suspect that you may have a mental health concern, it’s time to take action. You will not get better without the right support, and support is available. Here is what you need to do to put yourself on the road to recovery:
- Recognize that you have a problem. The first step in getting help for mental health or substance abuse issues is realizing you have a problem. Consider taking this quiz from Psychology Today or this one from Rehabs.com to see if you have a problem.
- Contact Military OneSource. Military OneSource has counselors who are ready to help veterans and active duty personnel who are struggling with mental illness symptoms, and they can help you pinpoint your problem and get back to a healthy state of mind. Call them at 800-342-9647.
- Talk to your doctor. If you have medical care provider you are already seeing, start by talking to them about your concerns. This should be your starting point for getting help, particularly if you suspect that you may need medical intervention for your condition.
- Reach out to an Outpatient Veteran and Family Clinic from Home Base. These clinics are designed to offer treatment to veterans for the invisible wounds of war. They utilize evidence-based trauma-focused therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, medications and family training to help vets dealing with mental health issues find help. These are regional clinics.
- Reach out to another mental health organization that has services for veterans. Many of these offer veteran services at little to no cost as an outreach to these heroes.
- Reach out to a rehab facility that offers substance abuse services to Veterans. While these are often geographic specific, you will find that there are a number of organizations that offer free or low-cost rehab to struggling veterans who have a substance abuse problem.
For more help with mental health problems for veterans, visit these organizations:
- Code of Support Foundation
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Veterans & Active Duty
- Real Warriors: Veterans – Coping and Support
- After Deployment
- Psychological Health Center of Excellence: inTransition
- Mental Health First Aid: Veterans and Military
- Veterans Crisis Line
- Operation Horses for Heroes
- Strong Heart Warrior
- The Soldiers Project
- Give an Hour
- The Camaraderie Foundation
- Veterans Trauma Support Network
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: Mental Health Programs
If you are struggling with substance abuse problems, a mental health counselor may be able to help through the organizations above. Here are some organizations that offer rehab services specific for veterans:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (US Navy)
- Air Force Alcohol and Drug Prevention and Treatment Services
- Army Substance Abuse Program
- Marine Corp Substance Abuse Program
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Start Your Recovery
Jobs and Education Help for Veterans
Sometimes veterans struggling with homelessness have problems because they do not have vocational skills that help them get gainful employment. When they return from service, they attempt to find work in a similar field, like law enforcement, rather than transitioning to a civilian career. Getting a job is often the first step towards working your way out of employment, but if you don’t have the right education, training or skill set, you may not be able to get a good job.
Thankfully, unemployment rates for veterans are relatively low. According to Debt.org, all veterans have an unemployment rate of just 4.6 percent. However, veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have a much higher rate of 13 percent, which is more than the non-veteran rate for vets of the same age. A full 20 percent of all veterans have a service-connected disability that keeps them from being employed.
Still, any unemployment among vets makes it difficult to stay in proper housing, and several organizations offer support to get vets back to work. Whether you need a better education or simply need to get the right support to get a civilian job, here are some steps to take:
- Check the American Legion’s list of state aid for veterans and service members. This list is a state-by-state list of aid programs, tuition waivers, scholarships and grants veterans can use, even if they do not qualify for federal help.
- Learn how to interview well. A good interview is the key to get a job, and you will need to brush up or learn these skills if you lack them.
- Gain skills necessary to be prepared for a new job. The Voluntary Education program can help make the education you need more affordable.
- Reach out to your local university for vocational rehabilitation and counseling. This counseling will ensure you are using all of your resources to get on the path to a new, successful job.
- Apply for jobs through organizations that are known to hire veterans or who have veteran hire programs.FedsHireVets is one of these.
- Get the right paperwork to claim veterans’ preference. Those organizations that hire veterans first will ask for proof of your veteran status. The Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD-214) is typically sufficient. You can obtain a free copy from the National Archives Veterans’ Records Service.
- Check veteran specific job boards. These boards have jobs posted from organizations that will give veterans first priority.
If you find yourself in the trap of joblessness that leads to homelessness, there are several resources you can tap that may be able to help. Consider these:
- American Military University – This military-friendly school has a number of programs designed to reduce the overall cost of education to help veterans get needed degrees.
- Troops to Teachers – This organization helps transition soldiers into roles as classroom teachers.
- Hire Heroes USA – An organization that hosts career fairs, provides job training help and posts job listings open only to veterans.
- American Legion Career Center – See job fairs and get career or business advice from the American Legion.
- VetJobs.com – Services to help members of the military get the training they need and find the right job for them after transitioning to civilian life.
- Disabled Veterans – The DAV offers help connecting veterans with meaningful employment that accommodates their injuries and disabilities.
- Victory for Veterans Career Camp – This at-home training helps veterans get ready for a successful career.
- ETAC – A group that provides veteran IT training and job support.
- Recruit Military – A service that connects employers with veteran talent.
Additional Services for Veterans and Their Families
Sometimes, veterans need help with something other than the major things of healthcare, jobs, education and housing. For a homeless veteran, simply getting enough clothing and food is a daily struggle. In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns that 1.7 million veterans rely on SNAP to help supplement their food needs. This indicates that the needs for vets extend beyond mental health, physical health, homelessness and jobs.
Whether you need clothing to prepare for a job interview, are looking for a new pet companion, need temporary financial help or simply need someone to talk to, you will find a number of services and organizations ready to help you. Here are some organizations that provide a variety of resources for veterans and their families:
- Recon & Sniper Foundation – Offers varied services to assist veterans in times of need, including welfare, mental health, life guidance, and financial assistance.
- Hope for Heroes – This organization offers trips and events for disabled veterans. It is based out of LaGrangeville, NY.
- The Warrior’s Journey – This organization offers a database of supportive, helpful articles to help veterans with everything from family life to financial difficulties.
- On Course Foundation – Using golf, the On Course Foundation offers help to rebuild confidence to wounded soldiers.
- Team RWB – Team RWB hosts events that get veterans out in the community participating in physical activities that engage them with their friends and neighbors.
- Operation Homefront – This organization provides help for families of wounded warriors who need emergency food, home repairs, financial assistance, baby items, moving assistance, furniture, household items, and help transitioning to family housing.
- Blinded Veterans Association – Offers programs and support for blind veterans and their families to ensure they have a good quality of life in spite of their disability.
- Dreams for Veterans – This group helps make final dreams come true for veterans who are nearing the end of their lives but still have something on their bucket list to accomplish.
- Veterans Yoga Project – This organization teaches veterans mindful resilience and yoga to help support good mental and physical health.
These veteran services focus on helping connect veterans to pets that can help them heal:
- Pets for Vets – There’s something therapeutic about a pet, and Pets for Vets aims to connect shelter pets with veterans that need the support of a good dog.
- Pets for Patriots – This organization takes overlooked shelter animals and pairs them with worthy veterans who need a companion animal.
- Vets Adopt Pets – This organization will pay the shelter fee for qualified veterans who adopt a shelter cat or dog.
- K9s for Warriors – This group helps veterans who are suffering mental health concerns get a service dog to help them through their difficult times.
Sometimes clothing and personal care items are a challenge for homeless veterans, but these organizations help:
- Backpacks for Life – In addition to job help, Backpacks for Life provides daily living essentials in a convenient backpack for homeless veterans who need a little help.
- Paralyzed Veterans of America G.I.V.E. Clothing Donation – This group takes clothing, household goods and small appliance donations to give back to paralyzed veterans who need the help.
- Midwest Veterans Closet – This Chicago, IL group takes clothing and household good donations and allows veterans to come and get the items they need along with other support services.
- Suiting Warriors – This organization offers upscale, professional attire to veterans to help them be dressed for success in the workplace.
You Can Get Help to Transition Back to Civilian Life.
It’s not easy to transition from military life to civilian life. As a veteran, you face concerns that the average civilian simply cannot understand. It can be hard to get a job, find proper housing, and even get the daily supplies you need. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, or if you know a veteran who needs a little help, the organizations in this guide will get you back on the right track. Take the time to explore your options and learn how you can break out of the cycle of joblessness and homelessness to enjoy a fulfilling civilian life.