Homeless Heroes?

By Hibo Omer, University of Maine UCEDD Trainee and Rafia Tisha, New Hampshire-Maine LEND Trainee

January 13, 2021

As a newcomer to America, I always wondered how America could have homeless people? I imagined America as a heaven on earth, where everyone is well off and poverty is seen only in museums. Unfortunately, what I learned, and saw was beyond my expectation and left a scar in my heart. When I first moved to the state of Maine, my eyes caught a white woman who was, and still is, homeless. Throughout each season I encountered this woman pushing her belongings in a buggy. During the winter, I helped her to pull the buggy until I reached my destination, always wondering and asking myself many questions. How could this happen in America? Why isn't she getting help? Where is her family? Recently, I overheard this disabled, homeless woman showing someone her ID card that showed she was a veteran. That hit me hard! How could a veteran who served her country be homeless? How could those in power allow this to be? History will be the judge. 

Since learning that this homeless woman was a veteran, my perspective has changed dramatically. Now, I am angry at the system that fails these homeless, women veterans. Women veterans should be recognized for their sacrifice and the selfless act they undergo, through training, to be in the army or other branches. Through this process, women especially, encounter multiple traumas. Therefore, they need a special plan when rejoining their community.

Due to the nature of the job of the veterans and the nature of male-dominant jobs, women should be rewarded and given extra support in place for their exit from the service. They need a strong transitional plan so their transition back can be smooth. In our Veterans Day celebrations, we have to be sure that all veterans are recognized and celebrated including those veterans who are disabled or homeless. ALL veterans are heroes who are giving or have given their lives to keep us here at home safe.

Women veterans in the USA

The story of a homeless, veteran woman mentioned above encouraged me to explore more about women veterans in the United States. For people like us who were born and brought up in different countries and cultures, the challenges of veterans might be new information. But it appeared to be a known issue to our LEND faculty and peers when we discussed it with them.

The question arises, why is this common issue yet to be resolved?

Women veterans are more than twice as likely to become homeless over the course of a year than male veterans who are living in poverty. Women veterans also acquire unique PTSD due to military sexual trauma (MST) leading to long-term physical and mental health issues at high rates. This group also has high unemployment rates, faces domestic violence, and experiences relationship breakups. I wanted to understand what is preventing women veterans from timely access to resources.  Gender is an obvious factor; but what about race, ethnicity, ability or, other intersecting factors that may be contributing to this? Are there assumptions, biases, or stigma associated as well? 

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working to address these issues and to understand the barriers faced by women veterans.  Current research lacks prevalence data.

Women are now the fastest-growing subgroup of the Veterans. The number of women veterans is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 years, and VA health care is expected to be in high demand by the women veterans.

Our LEND's focus is on developmental disabilities, not acquired disabilities. However, this fast-growing nature of acquired disabilities in women veterans surely has acute and chronic impacts on their families and children. As a LEND trainee in maternal and child health, I want to know the unique challenges of women veterans.  I strive to be a voice for those families and children. The question is, how? Are there any collaborative approaches that can be taken with the VA and other institutions? 

What approaches can be taken at the individual level, program level, and policy level?

Hibo and Rafia are 2020-2021 AUCD Trainee Liaisons. This article was written to bring awareness to issues faced by Veterans with Disabilities.



https://www.research.va.gov/topics/womens_health.cfm https://www.va.gov/homeless/for_women_veterans.asp https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3430482/ https://www.research.va.gov/topics/womens_health.cfm