The findings in this report support those of earlier studies that showed veterans to be overrepresented in the homeless population and reach beyond by showing veteran status to be associated with increased risk for homelessness after controlling for race, sex, and age. The magnitude of this association became greater after controlling for poverty; veteran status was associated with more than a 2-fold increase for men and a 3-fold increase for women in the odds of becoming homeless.
For male veterans, those in the 45- to 54-year-old age group made up 41% of the homeless veterans and also had the highest risk for becoming homeless. This finding is consistent with other research (2
) that identified a cohort effect in this age group of veterans. This cohort, whose key characteristic was service during the initial years of the All Volunteer Force, instituted in 1973, has continuously been the veteran age group at highest risk for homelessness as these veterans have aged over the last 2 decades. Similarly, members of the general population who are now aged 45 to 54 have continuously been at highest risk for homelessness (21
Veterans make up a discrete subgroup in this general age cohort, in terms of both the increased risk for homelessness associated with their veteran status and their access to health care and homeless services through the VA. The susceptibility of homeless people to chronic disease and disability increases as they age, and the veterans among them will increasingly turn to the VA for health care. Given their lack of housing and heightened susceptibility to chronic health problems, homeless veterans will likely contribute disproportionately to the increased demand for long-term care through the VA (24
). But beyond that, the changing health and need for housing support services of an aging homeless population are poorly understood. As the VA responds to an aging veteran population through increased reliance on community-based care to treat chronic illness (25
), those with the most tenuous ties to the community will be the ones who present the most pressing challenges.
Among women, particularly black women, the youngest age groups were at highest risk for homelessness. This finding is consistent with media accounts that women who served in more recent conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely than older female veterans to be homeless (26
). This finding is also consistent with other research indicating that among women in general, the period of highest vulnerability for homelessness is during the time period when they are heading families with young children (27
). Because younger cohorts are most at risk, female veterans stand to benefit more from existing homelessness-prevention efforts tied to reentering civilian life, which focus on housing needs, than from efforts that combine housing with health care services.
Veterans who are living in poverty are more vulnerable to homelessness, an effect that is magnified by black race. For example, for the youngest age group living in poverty, more than 50% of black male veterans and more than 30% of black female veterans were homeless (compared with only 7% for nonblack males and 12% for nonblack females), according to HMIS data. These alarmingly high rates suggest that homelessness-prevention activities—including tenant/landlord mediation or short-term rent and utility payments—among veterans may be particularly effective because they can target a finite poverty population and can further refine this effort by focusing on black veterans. Our findings highlight the usefulness of these data for such targeting, but future investigations of risk factors must go beyond the simple focus on race and poverty status. The addition of health-related data to the datasets used here could make specific links between health conditions and risk for homelessness. The VA is currently building a registry of veterans using homelessness services that can be linked to VA health care records, which promises such assessments of health-related risks for homelessness and for which this study could be a prototype.
Although the 7 CoCs included in our study represented approximately 10% of the US homeless population, they are a convenience sample of urban jurisdictions, which limits our study's comparability to other studies. This difference likely contributed to the divergence in a key finding between this study and the Veteran Supplement to the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (15
). Whereas this study demonstrated that male veterans were overrepresented among the homeless population (RR, 1.3), the Vet-AHAR found them to be underrepresented (RR, 0.7). This disparity is explained in part by the differences in geographic areas, as the Vet-AHAR was a nationally representative estimate. Further explanation for this difference in findings is the Vet-AHAR's inability to adjust its risk assessments by age and race.
Another limitation of our study is that the veteran status was based on self-report and likely included people who reported veteran status but may have been ineligible for VA services. Conversely, we may have included people eligible for VA services who did not acknowledge veteran status. The HMIS data are also limited in their universally available data fields, and a more comprehensive range of data fields would go further toward understanding and eliminating homelessness.
In conclusion, this study offers evidence that supports and expands on prior findings that veterans, particularly older veterans, are vulnerable to homelessness. As more and richer data on veteran homelessness, and homelessness in general, become available through HMIS and other administrative sources, future research should be able to increasingly relate health data to the demographic characteristics included in this study.