Guest Blog By Patricia Harris, American Legion Auxiliary Member
Marching out of her boots … stepping in her shoes.
As our veterans leave the military, they envision themselves stepping up in society to a better life. No man or woman exiting military service ever imagines himself or herself in a situation as dire as being homeless. Often, when reaching this point, there are complications with family, drugs, or the law. The network of comrades they left behind in the military is long gone, and they face despair. They feel alone.
A woman in uniform, serving her country, knows military life can be very challenging. Many serve in nontraditional jobs that may take them into combat roles, but some may not. Nevertheless, her willingness to lay her life on the line remains.
Women take on dual roles as wives, mothers, and even grandmothers. At times, life can get complicated. These are the times when a woman ends her military career, and everything she has stood for, fought for, and been through will now become how she lives — or so she thought.
The homeless woman veteran deserves to be embraced — not judged, and to have her service honored and respected.
Jordan, at 35, came home after serving her country for six years. She was the mother of two children: an 11-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. She was married but was later divorced, mainly due to domestic violence from her ex-husband, also a military member. After coming back to her hometown and family, Jordan realized being at home with her mom and children wasn’t quite working out. After four months, she still had no job, just many interviews but no results. Meanwhile, Jordan was having trouble sleeping and was running on a short fuse. Her mother was concerned about her. She noticed the signs of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Eventually, Jordan and her mother had a major disagreement, and she was given one week to take her children and leave her mother’s home. Having nowhere to go, she sought help.
Seeking assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be tricky, especially for a homeless woman veteran. Believe it or not, the definition of homeless with the VA isn’t what most would think. The VA’s meaning of homelessness is when the veteran is completely out, meaning on the streets, living in vehicles, etc. In Jordan’s case, she didn’t qualify. “How could this be?” you ask. Jordan and her children have been doing sleepovers at other relatives and friends’ homes. “Couch surfing” is the term used.
So, why not just go to a family shelter? There is an answer for that too. In most cities, a male child cannot remain with his mother in any shelter once he’s 9 or older. He must be transferred to the male population; no mother would allow her son to be separated from her this way.
When Jordan began to seek assistance, the first thing she did was to go online and find a veteran service organization. She came across an organization that specialized in women veterans issues. Jordan was greeted by the intake specialist to assess her most immediate concerns, which was homelessness. Calls were made to obtain an extended stay; meanwhile, appointments were set up with the VA HUD-VASH program (Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program) and claims.
Once a veteran has been verified as being homeless, and even with claims, every effort is made to expedite the process for the veteran to begin their journey to recovery. Homelessness among women veterans of all times of service is becoming the fastest-growing population. Often, women veterans do not know they are entitled to benefits and care from the VA.
Homelessness among women veterans is the fastest-growing veteran issue these days.
Jordan met with a VA homeless veteran counselor to obtain rapid re-housing with a voucher. She had documented evidence of her combat service and sexual trauma, which made her appointment with a Veteran Service Officer go well for getting benefits.
The homeless woman veteran deserves to be embraced — not judged, and to have her service honored and respected. She doesn’t expect special treatment. However, she wants the justice for which she fought. Homelessness among women veterans is the fastest-growing veteran issue these days. Chemical dependency, prostitution, crime, depression, and less than honorable discharges are signature symptoms of MST (Military Sexual Trauma), when women veterans’ complaints are sometimes ignored.
For Jordan and her family, assistance came after six months of homelessness. They now have an apartment she can afford. Her children are in school and daycare. Jordan is back in school full time and is on her way to obtain her benefits.
For us to help our women veterans, we first must see Jordan as we see ourselves. I have always believed that hurt hands heal better, and there is no room for being judgmental. It really does not matter how or why. It’s the fact that she needs help and understanding with genuine compassion.
The American Legion has many resources online, including contact information for the Homeless Veteran Taskforce, and an “On-Call Handbook for Homeless Veterans and Service Providers.” Information may be found at: www.legion.org/homelessveterans.
Also, contact your local American Legion Auxiliary for more resources or information about how you can help homeless veterans.