Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Beyond Combat: The Hidden Story Behind the Homeless Veteran

We know that homelessness among veterans is a pressing issue, but how are men and women going from successful positions in the armed forces to life on the streets back at home? Here are some of the root causes of why America’s Finest are unable to meet their basic needs upon leaving the service.

Mental Illness
Studies show that approximately half of all veterans suffer from some sort of mental illness. Many veterans are victims of chronic depression that may have begun before their time of service or may have worsened or developed from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Other mental illnesses that can result from PTSD include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Anxiety Disorders, Social Phobia, and Schizophrenia. Often times, these illnesses are left untreated or the medications to combat them lead to further health issues and unwanted side effects.

Substance Abuse
Approximately two-thirds of veterans deal with substance abuse issues. Many of these individuals are also victims of mental illness. Often times, such tendencies began before a person’s time of service and was only temporarily resolved because of the military’s strict policies on drug and alcohol usage. Without the constant regulation on those habits, many veterans quickly slip back into their old ways or develop new bad habits as a way to cope with mental illness.

Employment Disadvantage
Though our military takes pride in its advanced training, many of the jobs and skills within the military are not transferable to civilian life. A soldier might have been the best machine gunner or tank pilot in his or her unit and received great acclamation for that accomplishment; however, there is little to no need for such positions in the everyday world. Some skills such as teamwork and strategic planning are transferable, but unfortunately they are not always recognized by employers as equal to civilian work experience. Effects of mental illness and substance abuse also complicate the ability of veterans to get or maintain employment.

Social Marginalization
Many veterans were marginal individuals before their time of service and had difficulties coping in normal social situations. Upon return, many simply fall back into their former status in society with minimal support from friends or family. Others were fine in the civilian world before, but have a difficult time readjusting. Much of this marginalization is a result from mental illnesses, substance abuse, and disadvantages in employment. During their service, veterans are surrounded by people who share similar experiences with them. Some find it difficult to relate to others and maintain relationships once they return home.

Limited Capacity of Assistance Organizations
Many organizations are committed to helping veterans, but there is not enough assistance capacity to reach all of the veterans who are in need. The VA can serve approximately 92,000 veterans a year—making a laudable dent. However, there is an estimated 500,000 veterans living on the street an any given time during the year. Another drawback is the fact that many veterans are hesitant to seek help. Many do not want to seek help with substance abuse issues because of the fear of criminal punishment. Others simply have been mentally conditioned to not seek help as it is a sign of weakness.

If you know a veteran who is struggling, encourage him or her to get help right away! Refer him to our Veterans Services Department by emailing Elizabeth Winceniak or calling 843-735-5512.

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