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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Obama: Vets "veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless" - really?

Senator Obama visited Raleigh and held a "town hall meeting" as recounted here. Of course, these event touch on matter the campaigns feel are important - including, apparently, homeless veterans:
The final query of the evening came from a disabled American veteran who lives in a homeless shelter with 200 other men, half of which are veterans. The veteran also cited his troubles in getting his disability compensation. Obama stepped off the stage and shook the veterans hands, thanking him for his service to our country. Obama said veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless because they do not have enough help transitioning back to civilian life. He said we must start screening all soldiers upon discharge for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the two signature Iraq war injuries, and offer immediate care. He also said there is zero tolerance for homeless veterans and advocated for housing assistance, job training, substance abuse help, and better mental health services before thanking the enthusiastic crowd and saying good night.
As it happens, I have been doing some research on homeless veterans and I question Senator Obama's "seven times" contention. In fact, I can't figure out where it comes from.

First, as with any statistic, the question must be asked to what group is he comparing "homeless veterans" with in order to generate his statistic. Or, in other words, "Seven times more likely than what other group?"

Senator Obama did not cite a source. However, according to a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness: Vital Mission Ending Homelessness Among Veterans (hereafter "Homeless Report"):
Veterans make up a disproportionate share of homeless people. They represent roughly 26 percent of homeless people, but only 11 percent of the civilian population 18 years and older. This is true despite the fact that veterans are better educated, more likely to be employed, and have a lower poverty rate than the general population.
From CNN Homeless veterans face new battle for survival:
Jacobo is one of an increasing number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who come home to life on the street. The Department of Veterans Affairs is fighting to find them homes.

Veterans make up almost a quarter of the homeless population in the United States. The government says there are as many as 200,000 homeless veterans; the majority served in the Vietnam War. Some served in Korea or even World War II. About 2,000 served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Let's see, 200,000 less 2000 (Iraq/Iran vets)= 198,000. Let's guess that the number of Korean War and WWII vets on the streets is pretty slim (due to their ages) - say 3,000. That leaves 195,000 "homeless veterans" who "served in the "Vietnam War."

Now, there was "serving in Vietnam" and "Vietnam era service." Vietnam era service meant that you could have served in the U.S. or Germany or Japan or somewhere else (but not Vietnam) for your entire military hitch sometime during the Vietnam War.

There also was "in country" Vietnam service, also subdivided into serving as a front line soldier or service as support personnel. There was Vietnam service on ships off Vietnam, and service as a pilot or air crewman flying over Vietnam.

It is not clear from the research how many of the homeless "Vietnam veterans" are in country veterans, but it does make a difference in certain percentages.

The US Census Bureau (2004) reports there are 8.2 million "Vietnam Era Veterans". Of these 2.59 million are reported to have served "in country".

195,000/8.2 million= .0237 or 2.4% of the "Vietnam Era" veterans who are homeless.

195,000/2.59 million= .075 or 7.5% of the "Vietnam in country service" veterans who are homeless.

Total population of homeless persons: 740,000 (includes children)(as noted in a footnote to the Homeless Report: "If children were taken out of the 744,313 total, veterans would make up a larger percentage of the homeless population. This suggests that 26 percent is a conservative estimate. Either way, this estimate falls within the bounds of past research. Rosenheck (1994) reviewed research studies and found that between 29 and 49 percent of homeless men are veterans.")

If the U.S. population is 300,000,000 people and 740,000 are homeless, then the percentage of the homeless population compared to the general population is about .25%.

(740,000/300,000,000= .0025). If you take out the veteran homeless, there are 547,600 non veteran homeless and 267,000,000 non veteran total population -assuming 11% veterans). In other words, about .2% of the non-veteran population is homeless.

If veteran's represent 11% of the U.S. population, then there should be about 33,000,000 veterans. If the veteran population matched the .2% general population then there should be (.002 x 33,000,000)approximately 66,000 homeless veterans. Instead, the data indicates about 3 times that number are veterans. While that is high, it is not anywhere near the 7 times number mentioned by Senator Obama.

Perhaps my math is bad...if it is, please let me know.

And, by the way, the issue of homelessness for veterans seems to be closely connected to substance abuse and mental illness...
The VA reports that 45 percent of homeless
veterans suffer from mental illness, including many who report high rates of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD)...
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 70 percent of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse problems, with considerable overlap between mental illness and substance use disorders.16 Although these overall rates of mental illness and substance abuse are similar to other homeless adult males, some research suggests there is more alcohol dependence and abuse among homeless veterans than homeless nonveterans. Persons with substance abuse problems may have trouble maintaining employment and meeting their
monthly housing costs.
I wonder if any cross studies have been performed on the number of homeless veterans who were tossed out of the service for substance abuse? In other words, how many of these homeless vets have discharges of less than honorable or purely adminsitrative because they were not good performers in the service either? And I wonder what checking was done to verify actual veteran status?

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