Soaring gas prices, increasing grocery costs, exploding utility bills, and housing costs have affected Americans across the country. Unfortunately, as usual, those who raised their right hand to serve seem to be affected at an increasing and alarming level.
I recently reached out to Gretchen Smith, founder of the nonprofit organization Code of Vets, to find out just how bad it is for at-risk veterans in this current economic environment from a boots-on-ground perspective.
We are getting slammed with eviction cases. This is not good. We have a lot more veterans/families facing homelessness with this inflation.
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) April 23, 2022
Code of Vets was born from Gretchen’s experience of losing her father to PTSD. A veteran of the Vietnam war, SGT Danny Smiley lost his battle with PTSD at age 57.
Gretchen herself, like me, is an Air Force veteran.
A Perfect Storm For Disaster
The pandemic was difficult for all Americans, including our veteran community. Like many Americans, veterans lost their jobs, had to live off of their savings accounts, and took lower-wage jobs to make ends meet.
In many ways, the current inflation is worse for veterans than the pandemic. For example, the April consumer price index (CPI) reported an 8.3% rise in prices for food, housing, gasoline, utilities, and other items over the past 12 months.
Gretchen and her team, which consists of only about ten people who assist veterans nationwide, receive about 38 applications for assistance from veterans per day. These are requests for financial aid to pay bills, find work, and get help with benefits, and one of their most recent surges, according to Smith, is assistance with evictions.
The face of veteran homelessness is NOT just a skid row bum, not an alcoholic, not drug addicted. Veteran Homelessness that COV is dealing with:
32 vets applied since Sunday. 12 of the 32 are HOMELESS right now. There are a total of 32 children involved in these cases as well.
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) May 11, 2022
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The Path To Homelessness
As the pandemic depleted the savings of many American veterans and inflation on the rise, many have found themselves unable to make their rent payments. And as any of us who have rented are familiar, if you miss one rent payment, it is grounds for eviction.
The Code of Vets team found that, on average, most rent has gone up to keep up with inflation to about $200 more. Real estate firm Redfin reports that the average rent has increased 15.2% from last year.
How many people have gotten a 15.2% raise during that time to keep up?
While adjusting some household expenses like groceries may be plausible, rent is a fixed cost that comes knocking on the door every month.
Veterans have access to HUD-VASH vouchers to help with housing issues. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development webpage, the program:
“…combines HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).”
A concerning trend that Code of Vets has found is that the program is not making adjustments to keep up with the inflationary rent increase, exacerbating the veteran eviction crisis. This has been an issue since at least 2020.
We are experiencing a trend across our nation with increases in rent. HUD/Vash is causing our vets to go homeless because they are not keeping up with inflation. They are not increasing vouchers with rent increases. @CLWAL02 pic.twitter.com/xWP0pFJPz9
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) April 1, 2022
VA officials claimed in 2020 that essentially they didn’t have enough people to process the paperwork for veterans to receive the vouchers.
However, officials from HUD did acknowledge that another part of the problem was some regions federal calculations not keeping up with rising housing costs. Congressman Gus Bilirakis from Florida put it well:
“Part of the reason these vouchers aren’t being used is they aren’t helpful.”
It gets worse, according to Gretchen. The Code of Vets team has run into situations where state officials reach out to them asking for help for veterans facing evictions.
A negative GDP and 40 yr historic inflation is crushing. Yes we are moving➡️backwards. Your policies are setting us back decades. We are being covered up in Eviction cases across the nation and it is escalating by the day! HUD/VASH is not keeping up with rent increases!
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) April 30, 2022
However, when prompted why they aren’t utilizing the vouchers earmarked by Congress for veterans, they have been told that they were reallocated once given to the state. So now the veteran must wait on a waitlist like everyone else.
A Vulnerable Population
The number of veterans who live with PTSD is staggering. According to the VA, 30% of Vietnam veterans, 12% of Gulf War veterans, and 11% – 20% of those of us who fought in the War on Terror experience PTSD.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. There are currently 8 million people in the United States with PTSD. We must continue to support Veterans and civilian survivors of trauma. pic.twitter.com/pDcTTU4fMh
— Callista Gingrich (@CallyGingrich) June 1, 2022
PTSD can exacerbate an already difficult situation for many veterans facing financial stress and possible homelessness. As Gretchen put it to me:
“Sometimes the medications that veterans who seek help get placed on make them erratic and create difficulties with employers.”
This can lead to problems maintaining jobs which spirals into, you guessed it, homelessness.
Still other veterans don’t get the help they need out of fear of losing the security clearances that could help them gain and retain employment post-service.
Transition Is Not Easy
My conversation with Gretchen affected me to my core. As a fellow veteran, I am lucky that my transition to the civilian world was as smooth as it was.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it has had its challenges and still does, less than a year from my retirement date. The programs in place for veterans are antiquated and poorly managed.
I get my monthly emails from the VA advising me of all the benefits and programs available. But, unfortunately, most links are either to websites that no longer exist or to other program sites that send me to other program sites… that often don’t exist.
Army vet Timothy is going homeless. HUD/VASH neglected to turn in this his income adjustment and is unable/unwilling to back date reduction in the system. Will be made homeless if he doesn't catch up on rent by next Tuesday. $1Khttps://t.co/0ZyZl4H0Cv pic.twitter.com/NmtQPPkSgz
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) June 5, 2022
I was lucky. I had done considerable research on my transition before retiring. I had amassed mentors who told me what worked and often didn’t work for them, and I had a family support structure to rely on in the event things went south.
However, that isn’t the story that most veterans have. Many don’t have a family to support them. Still, others leave the service young with little life experience under their belt other than the uniqueness of combat and service to a nation.
Heroes Lost In The Noise
Gretchen says in today’s divisive climate, it sometimes feels like every group but veterans come first. As a result, they get “lost in the political vitriol.”
Gretchen told me heartbreaking stories, to include the single mom of a one-year-old and four-year-old who had been homeless for months that Code of Vets helped.
Or the veteran with a 13-year-old who was experiencing food insecurity, which is just a fancy way of saying going hungry.
Marine Vet Josh and his wife had preemie baby (27weeks). Loss of work, funeral expenses and trying to manage. Vet is working and landlord has filed eviction with court. They go to court Thur. $2300 evictionhttps://t.co/0ZyZl4H0Cv pic.twitter.com/aBadvcJosP
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) June 8, 2022
Far too many organizations and programs pass veterans off to other organizations instead of taking them on and securing claims, benefits and assistance. So really, what Gretchen and her team do is secure hope for these veterans.
Hope that someone cares about them. That they, too, are seen. Hope that the next day will be better than the last.
For veterans who do need assistance, you can contact Code of Vets here.
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