Female Veterans More Likely than Other Women To Become Homeless

Women who have served in the military are up to four times more likely to become homeless when compared with women in the general population, a Yale researcher has found.

One of three authors of the study, Robert Rosenheck, M.D., professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine, said the statistics are worrisome because women veterans now comprise five percent of the total veteran population and that number is expected to double in the coming decade. An additional concern is that no one seems to know why these women are more at risk.

“No consistent pattern of personal characteristics emerges that distinguishes women veterans from non-veterans or that might explain their increased risk for homelessness,” said Rosenheck, who also is director of the Veterans Administration’s Northeast Program Evaluation Center. “Like homeless women in the general population, women veterans who are homeless tend to share many of the same risk factors: low income; high rates of childhood abuse; post traumatic stress disorder, and self-rated poor physical health.”

The researchers based their findings on three sources, including data obtained from a program to assist homeless women who have serious mental illness. The article was published in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

One possible reason for the increased risk for women veterans might be that they lived in their current cities for shorter periods of time than had the non-veterans. Rosenheck said another possibility is that women with unstable family situations may turn voluntarily to military service as a means of escape. Once they are discharged, he said, they lose the social ties they had in the military yet may be reluctant to return home. Male veterans who served in the all volunteer army are more likely to become homeless than men who were drafted into the service.

The researchers plan a detailed survey of socio-demographic and clinical characteristics among women veterans and non-veterans in the general population to determine which risk factors are specific to women veterans. They also will be investigating whether these risk factors are a product of military service or reflect the enlistment into the armed forces of women with predisposing factors for homelessness.

Co-authors included lead author Gail Gamache of the Mental Illness, Research, Education, and Clinical Center of the Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Leeds, Mass., as well as Richard Tessler, a consultant to the center.

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