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Homelessness and Women Veterans - A Guide to Help Organizations

  • Synopsis: Published: 2011-07-26 (Rev. 2011-09-26) - The Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness guide assists women veterans who are homeless to find work and re-integrate back into civilian life. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss.

Main Document

The Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness guide was commissioned by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) and the Women's Bureau (WB).

The guide is one of a number of efforts to assist women veterans who are homeless to find work and to successfully re-integrate back into civilian life. The guide is the outcome of a two-phase Women's Bureau project that included the coordination of high-quality resources for the community-based organizations that serve women veterans. The Women's Bureau has also created fact sheets and conducted a, 'Woman-to-Woman Stand Down,' for women veterans. The Bureau is also developing case studies with the intention of gaining information on issues that affect homeless women veterans.

At this point in time in America there are more women serving in the Armed Forces than ever before. The numbers of women serving in the military is also steadily rising. At this time there are 1.8 million women veterans in this nation.

The numbers of women who are in the military and who are veterans continues to grow quite dramatically.

Deployment of female military personnel has increased exponentially from 41,000 during the Gulf War to greater than 200,000 women in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Women serve in every branch of the military, although they are more likely to serve in the Army and least likely to serve in the Coast Guard. Women comprise approximately 20% of all new recruits, represent 14% of all current military members; around 8% of the veterans in America are women.

Making the transition from military to civilian life is trying for both male and female veterans. The trauma experienced by women veterans through their service to America in the military many times makes transitioning back to civilian life all the more difficult and contributes to an increased risk of homelessness. Women veterans are more likely to end up homeless than women who have not served in the Armed Forces. In the last ten years, the numbers of homeless women veterans has almost doubled.

Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor stated in regards to the veterans of America

"Members of our armed forces make enormous sacrifices for this nation. The least we owe them when they return to civilian life is a chance to earn a living, support their families, and have a stable place to rest their heads each night."

Recently, The Women's Bureau hosted a series of listening sessions with homeless women veterans, as well as service providers across America. The main objective of these listening sessions was to gain insight into the factors that lead to homelessness among women veterans. The Bureau also wanted to learn how to improve both service and the provision of resources to women veterans.

The sessions held by The Women's Bureau showed that the experience of multiple traumas severely impacts women veterans' ability to re-adjust to civilian life. The women veterans who were most vulnerable told the Bureau their needs were simply not being met. The stories these women veterans told made it very clear that multiple traumas increase the risk factors for homelessness.

On any given night there are an estimated 75, 600+ veterans in America who are homeless

whether they have some form of shelter or not. Women veterans comprise approximately 7.5% of the 136, 300+ veterans who were sheltered between the first of October, 2008 and September 30th, 2009. The risk of homelessness among recent veterans, particularly women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is increasing.

Women who experience trauma before they enlist, then experience trauma while they are serving in the military, represent veterans with a, 'common denominator,' for homelessness among women veterans. Research into the subject has suggested that 81 to 93% of women veterans have been exposed to some type of trauma; a significantly higher rate than women in the civilian population. Traumatic experiences might include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Combat-related stress
  • Military sexual trauma
  • Childhood abuse and neglect

Experiencing these forms of trauma has a significant impact on a woman veteran's physical and mental health, their housing and job stability, as well as their family relationships.

The, 'Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness,' guide is meant to be used by community-based agencies that work with homeless female veterans through a number of different settings. These settings may include supportive and transitional housing programs, domestic violence shelters, emergency shelters, or outpatient settings. The leaders of these organizations can improve their effectiveness in engaging women veterans through use of the guide and becoming trauma-informed.

The, 'Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness,' guide includes the following:

  • A user's guide that offers organizations
  • The Organizational Self-Assessment for Providers Serving Female Veterans

The guide also includes the, 'Resources Lists,' which consists of not only printed materials, but websites and videos on topics such as:

  • Female Veterans
  • Cultural Competence
  • Consumer Involvement
  • Trauma-Informed Services
  • Homelessness and Trauma
  • General Trauma Information
  • Self-Care for Service Providers

Organizations that are community-based can achieve their goals of effectively delivering trauma-informed services if they combine the information and process within the, 'Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness,' along with knowledge and training in relation to the unique needs of women veterans. Sarah Manzano-Diaz, the Director of the Women's Bureau stated, "The guide underscores the need for organizations to recognize how trauma from military experiences impacts the reintegration process for women veterans and offers a comprehensive approach to help organizations create effective trauma-informed care environments."

Female Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates the number of women veterans will grow from 1.8 million, or 8.2% of all veterans, in 2010 to 2.1 million or 15.2% by the year 2036. During this same time span, the number of male veterans is expected to decline, according to the VA. Women veterans are up to four times more likely to be younger than their male counterparts. They also have a median age of forty-seven compared to male veterans who have a median age of sixty-one.

Women veterans identify themselves as a racial minority more often than male veterans, and have lower incomes. They also experience a higher rate of unemployment. Before the recent recession, women veterans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four experienced an unemployment rate of 16%, double that of women in civilian life and higher than the unemployment rate experienced by male veterans in the same age group.

The Veterans Administration has actions to improve the availability of services for women veterans. One of the things the VA has done is to require that every VA medical facility make the Women Veterans Program Manager, an advocate for the needs of women veterans, a full-time position. The VA has also provided funding for equipment to assist VA medical facilities to improve health care services for women veterans.

November of 2008 found the VA starting a system-wide initiative to make comprehensive primary care for women veterans available at every VA medical center, as well as at community-based outpatient clinics. The VA has established a policy defining comprehensive primary care for women veterans as the availability of complete primary care. The care provided to women veterans at every VA medical facility includes gender-specific care, routine detection and management of acute and chronic illness, mental health care, and preventative care - all from one primary care provider at one site.



Related:

  1. Study of Vietnam-Era Women Veterans
  2. Veterans and Sexual Trauma - VA Disability Claims
  3. Homeless American Veterans



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