Health Services Research & Development

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2006 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract


3077 — Demographic and Risk Factor Profiles of Substance Abusing Homeless Veterans

Author List:
Kline AA (VA New Jersey Health Care System)
Smelson D (VA New Jersey Health Care System/VISN 3 MIRECC)
Sussner B (VA New Jersey Health Care System)
Bruzios C (Rutgers University)
Losonczy M (VA New Jersey Health Care System/VISN 3 MIRECC)

Objectives:
This study compares the demographic and risk factor profiles of substance abusing homeless veterans entering the VA homeless service system to those of substance abusing individuals using NJ homeless shelters. The objective of this study was to identify risk factors and service needs unique to homeless veterans to inform VA service planning efforts.

Methods:
Data were collected on 89 homeless, substance abusing veterans enrolled in the MISSION Program, a SAMHSA-funded demonstration project aimed at helping veterans transition from New Jersey VA Domiciliary care into the community. Veterans were compared on demographic characteristics, substance use histories, and childhood experiences to a sample of 202 substance abusing individuals residing in New Jersey homeless shelters. Homeless shelter data were obtained as part of a SAMHSA-funded study of addiction treatment need in New Jersey. The MISSION survey instrument included items comparable to those used in the NJ shelter survey to facilitate comparisons of the two populations.

Results:
Compared to NJ homeless shelter residents, homeless veterans were older, more likely to be male, better educated, and actively seeking employment. They were less likely to be learning disabled (6% vs. 15%), and became homeless substantially later in life (mean age 37.4 vs. 28.5). Veterans were also less likely than shelter residents to have used cocaine (77% vs. 88%) or heroin (45% vs. 54%). Although veterans were more likely than shelter residents to have been raised by their natural mothers, they were more likely to report family alcohol abuse (75% vs. 53%), mental health problems in family members (20% vs. 7%), and a history of family violence (33% vs. 27%). Veterans also reported that their substance abuse problems began during, or were exacerbated by, their military service.

Implications:
Although homeless substance abusing veterans appeared to have more educational and cognitive resources than New Jersey substance abusing shelter residents, they reported greater family risk factors involving substance abuse, mental illness, and violence.

Impacts:
A comparison of VA and non-VA homeless populations shows specific deficits and strengths unique to homeless veterans. This information can assist the VA in planning appropriate and effective services for this vulnerable population.