Editorial: Veterans’ way out of homelessness
There are things that we promise our service members.
We tell them that they will be paid and that they will be trained. We tell them that when they complete their service, they will have the opportunity to go to school. They will have medical care. They are told that we will honor the work they did and the sacrifices they made.
Even though one of those promises is a smoother path to home ownership through Veterans Administration loans, there are still too many veterans who don’t have a roof over their heads.
But not as many as before.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, veteran homelessness in the Keystone State dropped 13% in 2019.
“In Pennsylvania, we’ve made great strides over the years in our efforts to end veteran homelessness, with the commonwealth estimate dropping 40.5% since 2010,” said department regional administrator Joseph DeFelice.
That is an impressive and significant decrease in homeless veterans. It should be celebrated. There just isn’t time to break out the confetti.
There is no time because Pennsylvania still has veterans living in shelters or on the street.
According to that annual count of the homeless, there are 37,085 former soldiers or sailors or airmen or Marines in the United States who do not have their own place to lay their heads. They are as exposed to weather and want as they may have been when trudging through a foreign jungle.
That cannot be allowed to stand. And while we do not specifically guarantee our veterans a roof, we do commit to things that would make keeping one more likely.
The primary thing we promise after someone leaves active duty is continuing health care through the VA. That includes mental health treatment.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20% to 25% of those who experience homelessness are dealing with mental illness. The VA says it is expanding mental health services after 1.3 million veterans received mental health treatment in 2011 alone. That number raises the question: How many didn’t get treatment?
If both homeless and veteran populations have large numbers of those dealing with mental health issues, even greater commitment to VA mental health treatment — including streamlining access — may be the best way to help veterans find their way home.