More PTSD among
Homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely to be
haunted by PTSD than homeless vets of previous eras.
BY TORI DEANGELIS
The good news: Fewer veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are homeless than their counterparts of previous eras — about 1.97 percent in their cadre,
compared with 2. 63 percent in the older groups, according to
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bad news: Two-
thirds of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in one major
sample had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a much
higher rate than in earlier cohorts of homeless veterans, who
have PTSD rates between 8 percent and 13 percent, according
to a study in press in the journal Administration and Policy in
Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research.
“A lot of studies show that homeless people often experience
PTSD after becoming homeless, and that many veterans
experienced trauma even before entering the military,” says Tsai.
On the positive side, homeless veterans of Iraq and
Afghanistan had lower rates of psychotic disorders and
substance abuse than previous cohorts of homeless veterans,
possibly because of increased VA efforts to provide early mental
health interventions and the military’s zero-tolerance policy on
substance abuse, adopted in 1982, says Tsai.
Despite their high need for help, many Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans were not receiving any VA disability payments, likely
because they had served so recently and were just learning
about the VA’s offerings, Tsai adds.
The findings suggest several ways for VA, providers and
policymakers to help these young homeless veterans, says
Tsai. These include making sure that supportive-housing case
managers work closely with PTSD clinicians to provide needed
treatment; distinguishing between combat-related and non-combat-related PTSD and providing treatment accordingly; and
following up on homeless veterans after they find housing.
VA might also want to consider using technology to reach
younger homeless veterans, adds Tsai, who is conducting
a study of technology use among the homeless Iraq and
“A lot of younger homeless veterans are much more savvy
about technology than older cohorts of homeless veterans,”
says Tsai. “VA could use this fact to develop new ways of
For instance, smart phones and computers could be used to
help these veterans receive disability compensation, hook into
in-person treatment or receive online treatment, he says. n
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N. Y.