Female Vets are the Fastest Growing Homeless Segment | News Article
donate now photo

Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home – News Article

By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN

LOS ANGELES — In the caverns of her memory, Tiffany Jackson recalls the job she held, fleetingly, after leaving the military, when she still wore stylish flats and blouses with butterfly collars and worked in a high-rise with a million-dollar view.

Two years later, she had descended into anger and alcohol and left her job. She started hanging out with people who were using cocaine and became an addict herself, huddling against the wind on Skid Row here.

“You feel helpless to stop it,” she said of the cascade of events in which she went from having her own apartment to sleeping in seedy hotels and then, for a year, in the streets, where she joined the growing ranks of homeless female veterans.

Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, returning servicewomen are facing a battlefield of a different kind: they are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, an often-invisible group bouncing between sofa and air mattress, overnighting in public storage lockers, living in cars and learning to park inconspicuously on the outskirts of shopping centers to avoid the violence of the streets.

While male returnees become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness, experts say that female veterans face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs. But a common pathway to homelessness for women, researchers and psychologists said, is military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexual trauma set Ms. Jackson on her path. At first she thought she could put “the incident” behind her: that cool August evening outside Suwon Air Base in South Korea when, she said, a serviceman grabbed her by the throat in the ladies’ room of a bar and savagely raped her on the urine-soaked floor. But during the seven years she drifted in and out of homelessness, she found she could not forget.

Of 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women, according to the latest figures available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In part it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves.

But female veterans also face a complex “web of vulnerability,” said Dr. Donna L. Washington, a professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. and a physician at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical center, who has studied the ways the women become homeless, including poverty and military sexual trauma.

Female veterans are far more likely to be single parents than men. Yet more than 60 percent of transitional housing programs receiving grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs did not accept children, or restricted their age and number, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

The lack of jobs for female veterans also contributes to homelessness. Jennifer Cortez, 26, who excelled as an Army sergeant, training and mentoring other soldiers, has had difficulty finding work since leaving active duty in 2011. She wakes up on an air mattress on her mother’s living room floor, beneath the 12 medals she garnered in eight years, including two tours in Iraq. Job listings at minimum wage leave her feeling bewildered. “You think, wow, really?” she said. “I served my country. So sweeping the floor is kind of hard.”

Not wanting to burden her family, she has lived briefly in her car, the only personal space she has.

Some homeless veterans marshal boot-camp survival skills, like Nancy Mitchell, of Missouri, 53, an Army veteran who spent years, off and on, living in a tent.

“That’s how we done it in basic,” she said.

Double Betrayal of Assault

Of more than two dozen female veterans interviewed by The New York Times, 16 said that they had been sexually assaulted in the service, and another said that she had been stalked. A study by Dr. Washington and colleagues found that 53 percent of homeless female veterans had experienced military sexual trauma, and that many women entered the military to escape family conflict and abuse.

For those hoping to better their lives, being sexually assaulted while serving their country is “a double betrayal of trust,” said Lori S. Katz, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the V.A. Long Beach Healthcare System and co-founder of Renew, an innovative treatment program for female veterans with M.S.T. Reverberations from such experiences often set off a downward spiral for women into alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence, she added.

“It just pulls the skin off you,” said Patricia Goodman-Allen, a therapist in North Carolina and former Army Reserve officer who said she once retreated to a mobile home deep in the woods after such an assault.

Ms. Jackson won full disability compensation for post-traumatic stress as a disabling aftermath of her sexual trauma, although she was at first denied military benefits.

She grew up in a tough section of Compton, Calif., and served as a heavy equipment operator in the Army, exhilarated by her sense of mastery in a male-dominated environment. But after the rape — which she kept to herself, not even telling her family — her behavior changed. She assaulted a sergeant, resulting in disciplinary actions. Back home, she lost her job in sales after she passed out, drunk, during a business phone call. “It looked like I really had my stuff together,” she said. “But I was dying inside.”

She served three years in prison for drug dealing and finally confided in a prison psychiatrist, who helped her see that many of her bad decisions had been rooted in the sexual trauma.

“I realized I needed help,” she says today, stable finally at 32 and snug in her mother’s home in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles. “But to me breaking down was soft.”

Her lawyer, Melissa Tyner, with the nonprofit Inner City Law Center here, said that many female veterans, like Ms. Jackson, associate the V.A. with a military that failed to protect them and thus forgo needed therapy. Other women who did not serve overseas said they did not realize they were veterans. “This makes them much less stable and therefore less likely to be housed,” she said.

California, home to a quarter of the nation’s veterans, is also home to a quarter of its homeless veterans. In Greater Los Angeles, a 2011 survey found 909 homeless women among them, a 50 percent increase since 2009.

Lauren Felber was one. Her decision to enter the military was a self-preservation instinct: she said she was molested by her father throughout her youth. “He’s dead now,” she said curtly. She thought the Army would make her strong.

When Ms. Felber returned, a debilitating complication from shingles made attempts to work, including bartending and construction jobs, painful. She became addicted to painkillers including methadone. Her welcome staying on friends’ couches ran out, and she headed to Pershing Square, in downtown Los Angeles, resplendent with fountains and soaring palms. She slept on the steps. Sidewalk habitués schooled her on the ins and outs of free food. “On the street, everyone’s hustling, selling something, even if it’s friendship,” she said.

Ms. Felber spent seven months in Rotary House, a shelter run by Volunteers of America. In her journal she wrote, “I walk the streets of Skid Row and see myself in the faces of the obsolete.”

But life is finally on the upswing: she recently moved into an apartment through a program that provides permanent housing and other services, called Housing and Urban Development — Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, or HUD-Vash. Having a place of her own, Ms. Felber said, felt so unreal that she piled blankets and slept on the floor, as she had on the streets. But gradually, walking around the bare rooms, she felt “an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude.”

“I am fighting the fear of losing it,” she added, “while I place each new item, making it a home.”

Family Complications

Returning veterans face a Catch-22: Congress authorized the V.A. to take care of them, but not their families. Women wait an average of four months to secure stable housing, leaving those with children at higher risk for homelessness. Monica Figueroa, 22, a former Army parachutist, lived in a family member’s auto body shop in the Los Angeles area, bathing her baby, Alexander, in a sink used for oil and solvents until, with help, they found temporary housing.

Michelle Mathis, 30, a single mother of three, has bounced among seven temporary places since returning home in 2005 with a traumatic brain injury. Ms. Mathis, who served as a chemical specialist in Iraq, relies on a GPS device to help her remember the way to the grocery store and her children’s school.

She said she did not feel safe in a shelter with her children, so they live in a room rented from a friend who is herself facing eviction. The only place Ms. Mathis said she truly felt at home was with fellow veterans at the V.A. medical center. Because she cannot afford child care, she sees her doctors with her year-old son Makai in tow.

Transitional housing has traditionally been in dormitory settings, which worked when returnees were mostly single men. But a March 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found bedrooms and bathrooms without locks.

Dr. Susan Angell, the executive director for Veterans Homeless Initiatives for the V.A., said that each site was individual and required a different approach, whether it meant putting up walls or installing card readers to beef up security. “There is no blanket solution,” she said. “It has to fit the environment. We really want the best and safest environment for any veteran that comes to us for care.”

Pledging to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the government is pouring millions of dollars into permanent voucher programs, like HUD-Vash, for the most chronically homeless veterans. Thirteen percent of those receiving vouchers are women, nearly a third of them with children, Dr. Angell said.

A newer V.A. program, with $300 million allocated by Congress, is aimed at prevention, providing short-term emergency money to help with down payments, utility bills and other issues. The government’s motivation is financial as well as patriotic: the V.A. estimates that the cost of care for a homeless veteran, including hospitalizations and reimbursement for community-based shelters, is three times greater than for a housed veteran. A pilot project providing free drop-in child care is under way at three V.A. medical centers.

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation that would reimburse for child care in transitional housing for the first time.

An Emotional Battalion

But change in Washington can be glacial. And a sturdy roof is not always enough. On the outskirts of Long Beach, Calif., a national nonprofit group, U.S. Vets, created living quarters for at-risk families at Villages at Cabrillo, former naval housing, with a special program for homeless female veterans.

But the directors soon grew perplexed by the large number of women who were struggling to make it on their own.

“We began to understand that so many of them suffered from sexual trauma,” said Steve Peck, the group’s president and chief executive. “Their inability to cope with those feelings made it impossible for them to put one foot in front of the other.”

The result was Renew, a collaboration with the V.A.’s Long Beach center. It incorporates psychotherapy, journal writing and yoga, and it accepts women who have been screened for military sexual trauma. Each class of a dozen women lives together for 12 weeks while spending eight-hour days at a women’s mental health clinic, “where you can cry and not have to encounter a bunch of men with your mascara running,” as Dr. Katz put it.

With Dr. Katz and other guides, the women formed an emotional battalion, squaring off against unseen enemies: fear, loneliness, distrust, anger and, most insidious of all, the hardened heart.

At the program’s graduation in December, held in a therapy room, nine women spoke movingly of choosing strength over fragility. Cindi, an officer in the Air Force with a master’s degree, said she had been bullied and ostracized by a female superior. After leaving the military, she had tumbled into a violent marriage and did not want her last name used for her own safety. She had been couch-surfing for a while.

She grew up in a household brimming with neglect. In her workbook, Cindi drew an image of water boiling on a stove, representing her traumas, more powerful than her self-regard.

After years of disappointment, Cindi was finally ready to forge new ground.

“I am more than the sum of my experiences,” she read from her journal, seeming to evoke the story of every homeless veteran sister. “I am more than my past.”

From the NYTimes Online, 2/27/2013     For more in this series:   http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/us/female-veterans-face-limbo-in-lives-on-the-street.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 


Recent News & Newsletters


May 6 Onondaga County Document Shredding Event Supports Feed Our Vets - Monday, April 24, 2017
Rooibee Red Tea Donates to Feed Our Vets - Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Feed Our Vets Opens New Veteran Food Pantry in Cabot AR - Thursday, March 23, 2017
Feed Our Vets Video Blog – Why We Do What We Do - Monday, February 6, 2017
Feed Our Vets Video Blog – How Feed Our Vets Got Started - Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Feed Our Vets – Chipotle New Hartford Fundraiser Feb. 2 - Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Stony Creek Beer Fundraiser for Feed Our Vets - Friday, December 2, 2016
Michael Beattie biked 12,000 miles to help feed veterans in need -
Happy Thanksgiving from Feed Our Vets - Thursday, November 24, 2016
Feed Our Vets Fundraiser – Chipotle – New Hartford – Tuesday, Nov. 15 - Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Feed Our Vets Fundraiser – Chipotle – Watertown – Tuesday, Dec. 13 -
Comets Basket Raffle Benefits Feed Our Vets - Friday, October 21, 2016
Track Michael Beattie’s Ride Across America for Feed Our Vets - Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Through Feed Our Vets Program, Armour Gives Back to Those Who Gave So Much - Thursday, July 7, 2016
Fresh Vets Adds Fresh Vegetables, Fruits, Milk and Eggs to Feed Our Vets Pantry Distributions - Monday, June 27, 2016
Fort Drum Soldiers March and Donate Food for Feed Our Vets -
Armour Foods Supports Feed Our Vets -
Mike Beattie ‘biking 12,000 miles to feed hungry veterans - Thursday, June 2, 2016
Highway Legends FOV Benefit in Clayton, NY, May 20-22 - Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Order Your Feed Our Vets Patch Today - Wednesday, April 13, 2016
67 Year Old Navy Veteran Will Bike Across America for Hungry Veterans - Wednesday, February 10, 2016
New Feed Our Vets Business Sponsors in Utica - Friday, February 5, 2016
Harold Connor January 29, 1937 – December 1, 2015 - Friday, December 11, 2015
It’s Giving Tuesday! – Feed Hungry Veterans today - Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Hungry Veterans on Thanksgiving - Thursday, November 19, 2015
Feed Our Vets at Darlington Raceway - Thursday, September 3, 2015
Armour Supports Feed Our Vets – FOV Logo on Kevin Harvick’s Race Car - Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Senator Gillibrand and Chairwoman Fitzgerald tour Watertown Pantry - Wednesday, August 5, 2015
ServPro Watertown Public Service Announcement - Friday, July 24, 2015
Feed Our Vets announces two new Celebrity Honorary Board Members - Friday, June 12, 2015
Veterans face losing food stamp benefits - Friday, May 1, 2015
A Thank You to Our Veterans from Fincastle, VA - Thursday, March 12, 2015
Grand New Flag to donate 5% of profits to Feed Our Vets in 2015 - Monday, March 9, 2015
Feed Our Vets featured in Mason Magazine - Saturday, March 7, 2015
FOV Watertown Pantry Recognizes its Volunteers - Friday, February 6, 2015
Feed Our Vets Utica Pantry Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon - Monday, January 26, 2015
FOV Executive Director meets with WWII Tuskegee Airman - Friday, January 16, 2015
Veterans Legal Clinic at Syracuse University - Friday, January 9, 2015
Utica Comets Volunteer at Feed Our Vets Utica - Thursday, January 8, 2015
There’s still time to make a tax-deductible donation for 2014 - Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Every Penny Makes a Difference - Monday, December 22, 2014
Are you ready for Giving Tuesday? - Saturday, November 29, 2014
Scrap for Vets, a go-green program that turns scrap metal into food for Veteran Families - Wednesday, November 19, 2014
25% of Active Duty Military Families Seek Food Aid - Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Feed Our Vets food pantry in Utica serves hundreds in Utica - Friday, August 22, 2014
Feed Our Vets Watertown in the News - Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Oriskany NY 5K Run Food Drive - Saturday, July 19, 2014
Happy 4th of July - Friday, July 4, 2014
Feed Our Vets Featured in Recent Sullivan & Son Episode - Monday, June 30, 2014
Shop and support Feed Our Vets at AmazonSmile - Friday, June 27, 2014
Jamie Burroughs Golf Tournament Helps Feed Vets, Seeks Silent Auction Donations - Monday, June 23, 2014
Scrap for Vets Program Turns Metal and Muscle into Food for Veterans - Tuesday, June 10, 2014
SNAP Benefit Cuts Will Affect Thousands of Veterans in Every State - Thursday, May 15, 2014
Canstruction Utica raises 3 Tons of Food – a “Smashing Success” - Wednesday, May 14, 2014
4 Point Compass Ride – Sunday August 3, 2014 - Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Follow Feed Our Vets on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest - Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Feed Our Vets Named as a Beneficiary for 2014 Canstruction Utica - Thursday, April 10, 2014
Feed Our Vets Gaining Exposure and Financial Support through Partnership with Patriotic Online Marketplace - Monday, March 31, 2014
Feed Our Vets Strives to Feed More Veterans as Hunger Increases Among Enlisted Families and Homelessness Rises Among Young Soldiers - Friday, March 21, 2014
Feed Our Vets & Founder Rich Synek Featured in Moving Video by WHOGOESHUNGRY - Thursday, March 6, 2014
Thank You to these Generous Supporters -
Feed Our Vets Seeks Americans’ Help as a Post-Holiday Decline in Donations Hurts Hungry Veterans and Their Families - Monday, February 24, 2014
Feed Our Vets Strives to Feed More Veterans as Hunger Increases Among Enlisted Families and Homelessness Rises Among Younger Soldiers -
Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES Food Drive a Huge Success - Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Veterans Need Assistance More than Ever After Nov. 1 Budget Cuts, Says Feed Our Vets - Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Hometown Hero – Rich Synek - Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Bikers Hit the Road to Help Feed Our Vets Provide Meals to Veterans - Wednesday, September 11, 2013
VA triples spending on veteran homelessness problem - Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Bikers Gear Up for 2nd Annual 4 Points Compass Ride to Benefit Feed Our Vets - Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Contest at Brad Paisley Concert Nets 900 Pounds of Food to Help Feed Our Vets Provide Meals for Hungry Veterans and their Families - Monday, June 17, 2013
Ways to Honor Veterans and Military Families this Memorial Day - Monday, May 20, 2013
Stand Down Events for Homeless Veterans -
Feed Our Vets Receives Two Tons of Donated Food After Local Teams Compete in “Canstruction” Competition at Sangertown Square - Tuesday, May 14, 2013
VA Launches Hotline to Answer Questions on VA Health Care and Benefits for Women Veterans - Friday, April 26, 2013
Feed Our Vets Advocates More Support and Planning for Solutions to End Hunger and Homelessness Among Veterans - Thursday, April 18, 2013
Feed Our Vets Utilizes the Bustle of Times Square to Heighten the Public’s Awareness About Hunger and Homelessness Among America’s Veterans - Monday, March 18, 2013
Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home – News Article - Thursday, February 28, 2013
The State of Hunger in America Today - Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Sequestration Could Hurt Veterans -
Feed Our Vets Will Host Information Table in Times Square February 9th to Raise Awareness about Hunger and Homelessness Among American Veterans - Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Five-Year-Old Gives Up Birthday Presents for Non-Perishable Food to Help Feed Our Vets Meet the Needs of Hungry Veterans - Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Feed Our Vets Applauds Community for Meeting the Needs of Vets - Monday, January 14, 2013
The VA Cuts Down Red Tape for Veterans to Receive Benefits - Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Community Makes it Possible to Sustain Food for Veterans - Thursday, December 20, 2012
Veteran Homelessness Has Decreased, But Younger Vets Are Increasingly At Risk -
Hunger for the holidays: 20 facts about hunger in America that may surprise you -
Feed Our Vets Urges Americans to Maintain Efforts at Helping Homeless Veterans After Report Says their Numbers are Declining - Thursday, December 13, 2012
Feed Our Vets Receives Food and Financial Aid from the Oneida Indian Nation and Local Community During Two Veteran’s Day Celebrations - Thursday, November 8, 2012
VA Announces Plan to End Vet Homelessness by 2015 - Wednesday, November 7, 2012
VA Makes Progress on the War against Veteran Homelessness - Tuesday, November 6, 2012
A Family In Need - Thursday, November 1, 2012
Feed Our Vets Offers Data and Information to U.S. Government About Hunger and Homelessness Among the Nation’s Military Heroes - Monday, October 15, 2012
Forty million Americans now receive food stamps - Sunday, October 7, 2012
Feed Our Vets mobile pantry feeds more Vets in more places - Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Military burials bring final dignity to homeless veterans - Tuesday, October 2, 2012
USDA Finds Hunger Rose in 2011 as the Economy Struggled - Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Government launching new initiative to end homelessness - Friday, September 7, 2012
Veterans: What Are Your Desires, Your Dreams? - Tuesday, August 28, 2012
BEDS AVAILABLE FOR HOMELESS VETS, PERTH AMBOY, NJ - Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Rising Unemployment Means Veterans Have a Hard Time Getting By - Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Lawmakers Push To Ease U.S. Troops’ Transition To Veterans - Wednesday, August 1, 2012
VA expands grants to tackle veteran homelessness -
Helping veterans help themselves by helping others -
First Annual Feed Our Vets Motorcycle Ride - Saturday, July 21, 2012
Program ensures homeless vets get military funeral - Friday, July 20, 2012
Veterans struggle to afford housing - Thursday, July 19, 2012
Job Report Shows Market Worsening for Veterans - Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Homeless Veterans to Get Job Assistance Thanks to $20 Million in Grants - Monday, July 9, 2012
Homelessness Among Female Veterans - Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Veteran Poverty Numbers Not Good - Friday, June 1, 2012
Elderly Veterans part of a growing hunger crisis among senior citizens - Monday, February 7, 2011
The homeless: America’s ‘invisible population’ - Tuesday, December 7, 2010


 
 

Privacy Policy

   
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterCheck Our Feed