Social workers are working to end veteran homelessness

Nov 5, 2013

By Rena Malai, News staff

There were more than 62,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. in January 2012, according to information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Social workers across the nation are working to end veteran homelessness through various outreach programs and initiatives, both large and small.  But, they say it is important to first identify the reasons for the homelessness, which can include substance abuse, poverty and mental health issues.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Debbie Stevens, left, sits with Michael Ramsdell, a homeless veteran who served in the U.S. Army. Ramsdell found full time employment, and is now working with Stevens to find an apartment. Stevens is a member of the NASW Wyoming Chapter and works for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing in Sheridan, Wyo.

In 2009, President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced a goal to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. In response, the VA — which employs more social workers than any other U.S. agency — created the Homeless Veterans Outreach Initiative. According to the VA’s website, the number of veterans who are homeless has dropped by 17.2 percent since then.

NASW-Illinois member Bob Adams founded the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans, where he is currently board president and clinical director. He said it is often a very gradual process for a veteran to become homeless.

“It’s not one big terrible thing that happens and they suddenly become homeless, but a series of events that lead up to it,” Adams said. “Being deployed can create problems such as PTSD, marital difficulties, employment difficulties — and it’s difficult to recover from those experiences.”

NASW-New Mexico member Geri Lynn Weinstein Matthews produced a feature documentary called “Justice Denied,” which explores military sexual trauma. She said veterans can become homeless as a result of this trauma, as well as depression and other mental health issues that can impact their employment status, interactions with society and, in general, how they conduct themselves in civilian life.

“What happens sometimes is they are not able to function well enough without mental health support, if they are suffering from mental health issues,” Matthews said. “This starts a spiral to losing their job, and not being able to cope.”

She said there is a national responsibility to give back to veterans for all they have done for our country.

“As a social worker, this is a population near and dear to my heart. And I’ve had personal experience, when my husband (a veteran) became depressed and suicidal,” she said. “We came close to losing our house, and it was very scary. I know the feeling of coming close to that, and I don’t want to see other people come into that situation.”

From the November 2013 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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