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Social Problem & Policy Assessment Paper: Homelessness in The Veteran Population

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According to the Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), homelessness is among the twelve challenges listed in the “Grand Challenges for Social Work” (AASWSW, 2018). In 2017, the estimated number of homeless veterans was about forty-thousand people or about nine percent of the total homeless population. Although the veteran homelessness population has decreased by about forty-five percent from 2009 to 2017, there have been recent indications of an increase of about two percent from 2016 to 2017. (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 2017). Even a small increase is cause for concern because it could be an indicator of a reversing of the hard-won gains against veteran homelessness. A great many programs that brought awareness to veteran homelessness through outreach and community involvement will now have to refocus on growth after years of reductions to adjust for the lowering of the homeless veteran population.

Identification of Social Problem

Factors of Veteran Homelessness

There are many factors that play into why veterans become homeless. One such circumstance is that veterans often find that the transition from military to civilian life can be lead to culture shock (Rubin, Weiss, and Coll, 2013). Military life is highly regimented, giving the soldier a clear understanding of the tasks required of them and when those tasks should be executed. The vital needs of the soldier and their family are typically made easily and cheaply accessible. For example, military installations provide free housing for both single soldiers and those with families, commissaries and exchanges provide deeply discounted groceries and home goods, and numerous recreation centers, libraries, parks, stables, ranges and more provide for low or no cost activities to soldiers and their families.

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When a veteran is transitioning to civilian life, they can find it difficult to find adequate and affordable substitutes for the amenities found in military communities. However, there are programs such as Transition Assistance Program (TAP), Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP), Wounded Warriors, and Veteran Affairs (VA), and others that offer systems of care during transitioning, but these programs are not always adequate (Rubin, Weiss, and Coll, 2013). For example, the TAP programs offers a two week long course that provides classes on resume building, job readiness, and similar business-related services, but the course takes place while services members are still responsible for accomplishing their duties as a soldier, resulting in a number of service members not taking full advantage of the resources that the course makes available. This program is not adequate to the task of helping service members navigate through their transition.

While the VA is able to quickly get transitioning soldiers onto their rolls, there are often exceedingly long wait times for doctor visits, especially in regards to disability evaluations for injuries sustained during the soldier’s career. Since the degree of injuries sustained can potentially make it challenging for a transitioning soldier to gain employment, having to wait months for compensation can be enough to create another homeless veteran.

Untreated mental health problems are yet another contributor to veteran homelessness. Common mental health problems veterans face include Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), substance abuse, and a history of suicide attempts (Rubin, Weiss, and Coll, 2013).  For example, studies that focused on TBI among the homeless veteran population found that approximately ninety percent of veterans who participated in the study reported a history of TBI (Barnes, Russell, Hostetter, Forster, Devore, Brenner, 2015).

Physical, sexual, and emotional, trauma can also be a reason for veteran homelessness.  Several research studies recognized domestic violence among women as the main cause of their homelessness. (Rubin, Weiss, and Coll, 2013). Military sexual trauma (MST) is prevalent in military service, primarily affecting women, but it can also occur with men. A study that focused on homeless veterans who experienced MST had a considerably higher chance of obtaining mental health conditions including depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, bipolar disorders, personality disorders, and suicide, among men and women. Men were also increasingly likely to suffer from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders (Pavao, Turchik, Hyun, Karpenko, Saweikis, McCutcheon, Kane, Kimerling, 2013).

Unsheltered and Sheltered

The recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) reported that about fifteen thousand homeless veterans are unsheltered, which is about nine percent of the overall homeless population. Unsheltered Homelessness is defined as people who primarily spend the night in irregular sleeping accommodations, such as on the streets, in vehicles, beneath freeway underpasses, etc. (HUD, 2017). A Study on unsheltered Veterans revealed that they are about three times as likely to experience ongoing, long-term homelessness. Identified general characteristics among unsheltered homeless veterans population tend to be frequently homelessness, being unemployed, and having a low educational attainment. They also have an increased likelihood to be diagnosed with a serious mental illness, substance abuse, or chronic physical illness due to the lack of access to adequate medical care (Montgomery, Byrne, Treglia, and Culhane, 2018).

According to the AHAR, there are about twenty-four thousand sheltered veterans experiencing homelessness, which is about ten percent of the overall homeless population. Those considered to be sheltered homelessness are people who stay the night at shelters, transitional housing, or safe havens (HUD, 2017). Sheltered homeless veterans are less likely to experience ongoing homelessness and have access to care, unlike the unsheltered homeless veterans. (Montgomery, Byrne, Treglia, and Culhane, 2018).

Assess the Impact of Current Policies

Definition of Homeless Veterans

In order to be considered a homeless veteran, an individual must meet the VA eligibility criteria and the official federal definition of homelessness. The VA eligibility criteria falls under Title 38, which states that in order for a service member to receive VA medical benefits they must serve on active duty orders for a period of twenty-four months of continuous active duty or have served in a combat war zone for thirty days or more, and discharged under other than dishonorable conditions (Szymendera, 2016). The general definition of a homeless individual, 42 U.S.C. § 11302 defines the terms “homeless”, “homeless individual”, and “homeless person” as the following:

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“(1) An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;(2) An individual or family with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;(3) an individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State, or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing);(4) an individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided” (1-4).

Policies and Active Legislation

At the time of this writing, there are seven bills proceeding through the House of Representatives that have a stated goal of improving benefits and preventing veteran homelessness. Highlighted here are H.R. 104: Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2017, H.R. 1145: Housing for Homeless students Act 2017, and H.R. 1993: Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act. Presently, there are five bills progressing through the Senate that are aimed at homeless veterans, such as S. 112: Creating a Reliable Environment for Veterans’ Dependents Act, S. 1072: Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2017, and S. 1473 Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2018).


A recent newspaper article pointed out that veterans that enlisted after the September 11 terrorist attack tend to “couch surf” between relatives and friends, which is technically homelessness. These veterans, however, are not eligible for assistance because they are not legally considered homeless under the current federal homeless definition (Lowary, 2017). This gap is an issue because it is one of the main reasons that the accounting for the numbers of homeless veterans has decreased. By not accounting for this population, these veterans will receive no help in obtaining housing, jobs, medical benefits, or any other federal aid. This helps drive a cycle that can be especially difficult for the veteran to break away from.

According to AASWSW, the responsibility of decreasing the homeless populations has been primarily left up to community involvement (2015). This implies that there is very little government policy in place to help provide for the homeless population. While I was reviewing the current bills making their way through the House and Senate, it was stood out to me that the majority of the benefits were being directed towards the VA. This means that for any new aid that may become law, the potential recipient would you have to meet the VA definition of homelessness.


There are many factors that are a contributing explanation as to why veterans have a higher likelihood of being homeless. Although there are community support programs and policies in place to aid those veterans struggling with homelessness, there is still a significant population that is not being reached. Last year, the trend of decreasing numbers in the homeless veteran population reversed by two percent, which is potentially a worrying sign for the future. The mission of social workers should be to continue to help communities support their homeless veteran population and to support and champion policy changes that are aimed at decreasing the homeless veteran population.


  • Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW). (2018). 12 challenges. Retrieved from http://aaswsw.org/grand-challenges-initiative/12-challenges/
  • Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW). (2015). The Grand Challenge of Ending Homelessness. Retrieved from http://aaswsw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/WP9-with-cover.pdf
  • Barnes, S. M., Russell, L. M., Hostetter, T. A., Forster, J. E., Devore, M. D., & Brenner, L. A. (2015). Characteristics of traumatic brain injuries sustained among veterans seeking homeless services. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 26(1), 92-105. The Johns Hopkins University Press. doi:10.1353/hpu.2015.0010
  • General definition of homeless individual, 42 U.S.C. § 11302:1-4 (2018).
  • Jake Lowary. (2017, October 12). How the new look of homeless veterans is inspiring changes. Tennessean. Retrieved from https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2017/10/12/veteran-homelessness-inspiring-changes-post-911-nashville-veterans/728660001/
  • Montgomery, A. E., Byrne, T. H., Treglia, D., Culhane, D. P. (2016). Characteristics and likelihood of ongoing homelessness among unsheltered veterans. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 27(2), 911-922. The Johns Hopkins University Press. doi:10.1353/hpu.2016.0099
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. (2018). Active legislation. Retrieved from http://nchv.org/index.php/policy/policy/active_legislation/
  • Pavao, J., Turchik, J. A., Hyun, J.K., Karpenko, J., Saweikis, M., McCutcheon, S., Kane, V.,  Kimerling, R. (2013). Military sexual trauma among homeless veterans. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 28, 536-41. doi:10.1007/s11606-013-2341-4
  • Rubin, A.,Weiss, E., & Coll, J. (2013), Handbook of military social work, Hoboken, NJ: John  Wiley & Sons.
  • Szymendera, S. D. (2016). Who Is a “Veteran”? —Basic Eligibility for Veterans’ Benefits. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42324.pdf
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2017). The 2017 annual homeless assessment report (AHAR) to congress. Retrieved from https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2017-AHAR-Part-1.pdf

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