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Homelessness among Iraq, Afghanistan vets rises

Jul. 25, 2011 - 10:04PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 25, 2011 - 10:04PM  |  
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More than 10,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are homeless or in programs aimed at keeping them off the streets, a number that has doubled three times since 2006, according to figures released by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The rise comes at a time when the total number of homeless veterans has declined from a peak of about 400,000 in 2004 to 135,000 today.

"We're seeing more and more (Iraq and Afghanistan veterans)," says Richard Thomas, a Volunteers of America case manager at a shelter in Los Angeles. "It's just a bad time for them to return now and get out of the military."

The VA blames the rise on a poor economy and the nature of the current wars, where a limited number of troops serve multiple deployments.

The result is a group of homeless veterans where 70 percent have a history of combat exposure with its psychological effects, says Pete Dougherty, a senior policy adviser on homelessness at the VA.

Among all homeless veterans, perhaps 20 percent to 33 percent were in combat, he says.

LaShonna Perry, a former Army mechanic who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was homeless for more than year after leaving the military. She rented an apartment last year with a federal voucher.

"Some soldiers still have issues they're dealing with from what they've seen, what they've experienced," she says. "Some think, ‘There's nothing wrong with me.' They can deal with it on their own. Until it gets out of control."

As of May, there were 10,476 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans either living on the streets, in temporary housing or receiving federal vouchers to help pay rent for an apartment.

About 13 percent are women, the VA says.

The spike in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking shelter comes at a time when the government and non-profit groups are pouring more resources than ever into fighting veteran homelessness.

The VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is spending $46.2 million to expand the voucher program.

The VA is set to announce Tuesday that nearly $60 million will fund a program of grants to veterans with families who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.

"There are places to turn to for help that did not exist before," says John Driscoll, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

He said more than 2,400 non-profit organizations across the country now have homeless veteran programs.

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