A “Staggering Number” of Vets End Up Homeless After Experiencing Sexual Violence in the Military

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-158762576/stock-photo-a-woman-lying-against-a-brick-building.html?src=pd-same_model-158492999-8">Mikael Damkier</a>/Shutterstock

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Researchers have identified a new risk factor for homelessness among veterans: military sexual trauma. Nearly 1 in 10 veterans who experienced sexual assault or harassment in the military became homeless within five years—a “staggering number,” noted an editorial in JAMA Psychiatry, which published the study Wednesday.

The research, funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, drew on a national sample of 601,892 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were discharged between 2001 and 2011. Those who reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while they were in the military were twice as likely to become homeless within five years as those who did not, and the results held true even after controlling for PTSD, alcohol and drug addiction, and serious mental illnesses.

The trauma of violence during a military deployment can make returning to civilian life more difficult, the study’s authors point out, with homelessness exemplifying “an extreme case of poor reintegration.” Military sexual trauma, or MST, includes forcible and coerced sexual assault, as well as harassment (uninvited or unwanted sexual attention, including cornering, touching, pressure for sexual favors, or verbal remarks). According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of MST.

According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of military sexual trauma.

Interestingly, the researchers found a slightly higher rate of homelessness among male veterans who experienced sexual violence as compared to women. “Men with a positive MST screen are a particularly vulnerable group,” the authors wrote. “In addition to the burden of issues regarding masculinity, sexuality, and self-concept among males who have experienced sexual trauma,” they also may be less likely to seek mental-health treatment than women—potentially leading to worsening psychiatric symptoms and homelessness.

The link between homelessness and the experience of different kinds of traumatic events—childhood abuse, domestic violence, even homelessness itself—is well documented. The study also adds homelessness to an already long list of MST’s public health consequences. Past research has found that experiencing MST increased a person’s odds of mental illness by two to three times—most notably post-traumatic stress disorder, but also alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety disorders, depression, dissociative disorders. That’s not to mention the links between MST and certain medical conditions: liver disease, chronic pulmonary disease, obesity, hypothyroidism, and HIV/AIDS.

According to researcher Adi Gundlapalli, an associate professor at the University of Utah medical school, potential consequences of military sexual violence include low social support, poor interpersonal relationships, and revictimization. “These types of problems may compromise employment and put one at risk for financial instability,” Gundlapalli says. “Ultimately, this may lead to homelessness.”

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate