The period of transition from military to civilian life is a critical one for most Service members. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), supported by the Department of Defense (DoD) are working together to end homelessness. In part, these efforts are facilitated by DoD’s involvement as a member of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), which met this week to determine the best ways to continue to move forward with “Opening Doors,” a national, comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness, especially to eliminate chronic veteran homelessness by 2015.
Coming up with a comprehensive, structured plan of action for post-military life is a critical first step towards success, and several DoD programs are designed to assist Service members in this process. For example, Transition GPS, the newly redesigned Transition Assistance Program (TAP), begins with counseling on topics from budget planning to military skills translation, and culminates in a CAPSTONE event to verify a Service member’s successful completion of the program’s Career Readiness Standards, which include a civilian resume, a family budget, and/or a completed school application.
The Recovery Coordination Program (RCP) also aids Service members in mapping out their post-military life, as eligible Service members are paired with a Recovery Care Coordinator (RCC). The RCC in turn helps the Service member in creating a comprehensive recovery or transition plan, identifying the Service member’s needs and goals for their recovery and transition. The RCC then connects them to resources to meet their needs and accomplish these goals. Taught to recognize behavioral health symptoms as well, RCCs can also link Service members to mental health services if needed to better facilitate the Service member’s recovery.
Roughly 45% of homeless veterans experience mental illness, which is often cited as a key factor leading to homelessness. As such, ensuring continued attention to mental health is critical in keeping veterans off the streets. Initiatives such as the Real Warriors Campaign encourage warriors and families to seek appropriate care and support for psychological health concerns, and help connect them to relevant resources. DoD’s Military Mental Health Screening program offers free, confidential online assessments for further evaluation or treatment of symptoms, and also gives guidance on where to seek mental health assistance. To span the entire continuum of care, the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) work to promote resilience, rehabilitation and reintegration for warriors, families and veterans with psychological health concerns and traumatic brain injuries. The combined efforts of these programs reinforce the message that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Substance abuse is also often linked to homelessness, with roughly 70% of homeless veterans experiencing alcohol or other drug abuse problems. Both DoD and the Services sponsor initiatives to curb substance abuse, including educational awareness campaigns to counter smoking and alcoholism such as the “Quit Tobacco. Make Everyone Proud” and the “That Guy” campaigns.
To provide a readily available, comprehensive online information hub, the National Resource Directory (NRD) lists resources for homelessness prevention, aid, emergency and transitional housing, as well as employment. DoD and VA have also worked together to facilitate the easy transition of Service members to veteran status through the Pre-Discharge program, which enables Service members to file claims for disability compensation up to 180 days prior to separation or retirement from Active duty or full-time National Guard or Reserve duty (Titles 10 and 32). While in the Pre-Discharge program, Service members may also apply for other VA benefits, such as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, Education and Loan Guaranty.
Lastly, financial assistance and stability can act as a shield against homelessness. DoD’s Home Owner’s Assistant Program (HAP) assists eligible homeowners who face financial loss when selling their primary residence homes in areas where real estate values have declined due to a base closure or realignment announcement. DoD’s Special Compensation for Assistance of Daily Living (SCAADL) provides eligible Service members who incur a permanent catastrophic injury or illness with a monthly stipend to offset the loss of income by a primary caregiver who provides non-medical care, support and assistance to the Service member.
Serving those who have served is a national privilege and responsibility and, while much still needs to be done, there is good news to be found.