Based on a study in nearly 200 cities, the number of homeless people in the US tripled between 1981 and 19891. More startling is that more than a quarter of the nation's homeless - as many as a third, even - are veterans.
Homeless veterans have served in many wars and military efforts, but nearly half of them were active servicemen in the Vietnam era. Late Vietnam and Post Vietnam veterans show higher rates of mental illness and substance addiction making it harder for them to maintain jobs and secure affordable housing. There is no evidence linking homeless rates among veterans to combat service (in fact the number of homeless combat veterans is lower than the number of homeless non-combat veterans), but it is speculated that recruitment patterns may have played a role in the large numbers of homeless from this period.
In addition to the obstacles faced by all homeless: shortage of affordable housing, inability to access healthcare, no family or support networks and lack of a livable income, veterans face even more challenges. Many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in addition to some variety of substance abuse, and although the majority of homeless are single men, most homeless aid goes to families or single women with children.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) extimates that today there are nearly 300,000 homeless veterans on any given night, and more than 500,000 homeless during some point in the course of a year. Half of these veterans have substance abuse problems, 45% suffer mental illness. The VA began offering homeless services in 1987, and is now the largest provider of homeless services in the US. Although they help more than 100,000 veterans a year, they are still only reaching less than 20% of veterans in need. VA services include outreach, medical referrals, rehabilitation, employment assistance and housing assistance.