Homeless male Veteran getting a meal at the community kitchen.

Understanding Veteran Homelessness and Its Impact on Health

Every Veteran deserves a safe, stable and affordable place to live. Connect to the resources and support services that can help.

In 2023, more than 35,000 Veterans experienced homelessness. Behind each one of those numbers, there is a Veteran with a story to share. Maybe it was a substance use problem that interfered with stable employment, or a large, unexpected bill that created unmanageable debt. Maybe it was an untreated health condition that made it difficult to find work or a lack of affordable housing that made it impossible to secure a home. Regardless of the many reasons behind Veteran homelessness, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its community partners are committed to ending it.

It’s important to understand the risk factors that can contribute to Veteran homelessness and the ways in which it impacts Veteran health and well-being, as well as what resources are available to help at-risk Veterans, their families and those currently experiencing homelessness.

What Does the Data Say?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts an annual Point-In-Time (PIT) count to estimate the number of Americans, including Veterans, without safe and stable housing. Explore data in HUD’s 2023 PIT count, which found the following:

  • The total number of Veterans who experienced homelessness in 2023 was 35,574. This is an increase of 7.4% over January of 2022.
  • VA permanently housed more than 46,000 Veterans who were homeless in 2023 – surpassing its calendar year goal to house 38,000 Veterans.
  • VA engaged with more than 40,000 unsheltered Veterans to connect them with housing and other resources.
  • The number of Veterans experiencing homelessness has fallen by 4% since early 2020 and by more than 52% since 2010.

Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk for Homelessness?

Both male and female Veterans have been found to be at greater risk for homelessness than non-Veterans, although the disparity has declined over time. Many of the risk factors that can lead to homelessness for Veterans are the same as those of other adults. Studies from the National Library of Medicine show the most consistent risk factors for homelessness include:

  • Substance use
  • Mental health conditions, including schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Low income, poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Money mismanagement
  • Housing affordability

VA research shows that Veterans may face additional risk factors, including:

  • Problematic military discharges, such as being discharged for alcohol, drugs or misconduct
  • Social isolation after leaving the military
  • Adverse deployment experiences
  • Military sexual trauma

Understanding these risk factors helps to show the importance of connecting Veterans to the services and benefits they have earned and deserve. Timely mental health care, substance use recovery resources, health care benefits and other support services can become protective factors, ensuring that issues like substance use and mental health conditions don’t contribute to higher rates of homelessness.

How Does Homelessness Affect a Veteran’s Health and Health Care?

For Veterans experiencing homelessness, maintaining good health is challenging. It may be difficult to get to medical appointments or to follow up with providers without stable housing or transportation.Female Veteran watches as a nurse takes blood pressure. It may be hard to adhere to treatment without a secure place for medications or the proper resources for refrigeration or storage.

Veterans who are experiencing homelessness may prioritize more immediate needs such as food or finding a safe place to sleep each night over basic health care needs.

Because of the many barriers to quality health care, chronic diseases can worsen, and untreated medical conditions can become dangerous or life-threatening. Common conditions among homeless Veterans often include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Chronic stress
  • Exposure to diseases and toxins from the environment

What Is VA Doing to End Veteran Homelessness?

VA has implemented a multi-faceted approach in the fight against Veteran homelessness, which has lowered the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness by more than 50% since 2010. The approach includes:

  • Conducting coordinated outreach to proactively seek out Veterans in need of assistance
  • Connecting homeless and at-risk Veterans with housing solutions, health care, community employment services and other support
  • Collaborating with employers, housing providers, community organizations and federal, state and local agencies to expand employment and affordable housing options for Veterans exiting homelessness

What Resources Are Available to Help?

  • National Call Center for Homeless Veterans – This is a fast, free and confidential way for Veterans to get connected to VA resources and support. The center is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors who can connect Veterans to their nearest VA medical center and provide information about VA homeless programs, health care, and other services. If you are a Veteran who is homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, a family member, friend or supporter of a Veteran, you can call 877-424-3838 or chat online for assistance.
  • VA’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program – This program is found in each VA medical center with team members trained to reach out to Veterans who are not currently receiving services and connect them with quality health care and other important resources such as housing assistance, psychiatric treatment programs, social services and more.
  • Homeless Patient Aligned Care Teams Program – Medical staff, mental health and substance use counselors, nurses and homeless program staff work together to provide Veterans with comprehensive care and services on the campuses of VA medical centers, within community-based outpatient clinics and community resource and referral centers. Veterans can walk into clinics and receive medical care, housing placement support, substance use treatment, mental health services, community referrals, benefits counseling, hot showers, clean clothes and more. This program also includes mobile medical units, which are vans or trucks that move from one location to another to provide a private space for eligible Veterans to meet with medical providers, mental health clinicians, social workers and more.
  • VA offers several more resources and services for Veterans who are experiencing homelessness or Veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless. Learn more about rental assistance vouchers, case management and supportive services, employment coordinators, dental care and more.
  • Stand Down Events – Typically, Stand Down events are one-to-three-day events in local areas during which VA staff and volunteers provide food, clothing and health screenings to homeless and at-risk Veterans. Veterans receive referrals for health care, housing solutions, substance use treatment, mental health counseling and other essential services. VA provides a list of upcoming Stand Down events searchable by area.

Every Veteran deserves a safe, stable and affordable place to live. Connect to the resources and support services that can help.

Tell us what you think.

* Required form fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.