Vietnam Veterans Day was celebrated on March 29, 2022. The day is intended to focus on thanking and honoring Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the nation, with special recognition given to former Prisoners of War and the families of those still listed as Missing in Action.
This day also emphasizes the service of Armed Forces and support organizations during the war, paying tribute to wartime contributions at home by American citizens and highlighting technology, science, and medical advances made during the war and also recognizing contributions by our Allies. The year 2022 marks the fifth anniversary of this commemoration.
It is important to note that Vietnam veterans make up a significant portion of veterans experiencing homelessness. VA research on veterans experiencing homelessness found that while Vietnam veterans made up half of the population experiencing homelessness, they made up less than 30 percent of the veteran population at the time. They often returned to a country that did not appreciate their service but instead actively scorned and ridiculed them. There were no readjustment services, leaving them to adjust to the civilian world largely alone after combat experiences.
In addition to the usual challenges unstable housing veterans face, this particular cohort of veterans is aging. According to the VA, the median age of a Vietnam veteran is 68. Research also shows that experiencing homelessness and poverty can cause premature aging, with those experiencing homelessness showing up with medical conditions and signs of aging 10 to 20 years ahead of when they would normally appear.
A major issue today is that the homeless system of care for veterans must adapt to meet the changing needs of the population it serves. While we are still learning about gaps in the system, National Coalition of Homeless Veterans members across the country have highlighted some challenges worthy of being addressed.
These include support for medical equipment and program adaptations that create accessibility for aging veterans; more linkages to community aging resources; and greater access to specified care components like home health and memory care that can support community care over premature institutionalization. In addition, affordable housing for this population should also be designed with their needs in mind.
Another critical gap to address is the need to do better prevention work so that Vietnam veterans don’t fall into homelessness in the first place. Increasing access to VA disability compensation and pensions, Social Security, and other income sources, along with good financial and retirement planning resources are one piece of the puzzle.
Other pieces include ensuring access to mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and other health-related conditions. Research on the root causes and contributing factors could be crucial to improving the way we prevent homelessness among veterans of future generations.
While we thank Vietnam veterans and honor their service, we owe it to them to ensure their brothers and sisters in arms have the supports they need so we do not leave them behind.
Visit www.nchv.org to learn about the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.