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2011 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

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2011 National Meeting

1035 — Homeless Women Veterans’ Social Service Needs and Experiences

Hamilton AB (COE Sepulveda), Washington DL (VA Greater Los Angeles)

Eliminating homelessness is a VHA priority. However, homelessness among women veterans is on the rise. Their challenges often differ from those of male veterans. Therefore, we investigated homeless women veterans’ life experiences, health issues, and current social service needs.

Three focus groups were conducted with 29 homeless women veterans in Los Angeles, CA. Data was analyzed in ATLAS.ti using constant comparison method.

Women were 48 years old on average (range: 32-68); the majority were either African American (46%) or White (33%). Their military service ended at an average age of 26 years. The average age at first homelessness was 36 years. In attempting to obtain information or access to social services, women encountered numerous barriers with regard to their identities as veterans, e.g., not being given respect as women who had served in the military. Women expressed feelings of isolation and abandonment with regard to their housing predicaments and their lack of access to sufficient, women-only, long-term, safe options for care. Participants had utilized or were familiar with a small set of programs that addressed their mental health and/or substance abuse treatment needs. They had mostly heard about these programs through word-of-mouth. They expressed an urgent need for coordination and delivery of information about available social services; they experienced particular challenges with “mixing” VA and state or county services. Women also described frustration with being ineligible for certain services if they did not have drug or alcohol problems, and they expressed their perception that more services were available for male veterans than female veterans. The focus groups themselves served as venues for sharing information about available services.

Homeless women veterans face numerous challenges accessing information about and entry into programs to address their multiple needs. Their fundamental need for safe and stable housing was paramount, and their desire for coordinated, women-only services was pronounced.

As increasing numbers of women return from military duty, VA has an opportunity to intervene in the early post-military years. To counter homelessness, VA social services will have to be prepared to meet the multiple psychosocial, mental health, and medical needs of these women veterans.

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