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Many US Military Veterans Struggle to Adjust to Civilian Life

  • Peter Fedynsky

Thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have returned from dangerous tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan only to end up homeless. Organizations that help veterans say many of them are on the streets or in shelters only months after leaving the military.

Former Staff Sergeant Q-Tara Henry enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. She served two tours of duty in Iraq as a chemical specialist - a job that involved detecting and disposing of chemical, biological and radiological agents. She became homeless soon after returning to civilian life two years ago.

"If I'm coming out of high school straight into the military and then 11 or 12 years later into civilian life, it's a culture shock," said Henry. "You don't even know where to begin."

The U.S. Veterans Administration says a quarter of the homeless people in America are veterans, although veterans make up only 11 percent of the U.S. population. Many returning veterans, including Q-Tara Henry, are confronting America's high unemployment rate.

"I'm in a shelter and I still don't have a job," she said. "And it's, 'Oh, you're overqualified, you have too much experience' or, 'What you did in the military does not constitute what we do in civilian terminology.' I mean, it's a number of different things. Just because you served in the military, it means nothing to the civilian world."

Tory Lyon is Director of the Jericho Project, a non-governmental organization that helps homeless veterans find jobs and homes. She says there is no single reason for homelessness among veterans, although many suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or traumatic brain injuries.

"It's usually a cascade of problems that cause some to be homeless, which could include substance abuse, having mental health problems, becoming estranged from family, not being able to keep employed," said Lyon.

Two-thirds of the Jericho Project is funded by the U.S. government. The rest of the project's expenses are paid for by corporations and through donations.

Thanks to the project, Q-Tara Henry is attending classes for training that will help her find work. Tory Lyon says the Defense Department could do more to help service members who leave the military.

"I think more should be focused on housing, because it's really hard to get better if you don't have a place to live, a safe stable place to live," she said.

Q-Tara Henry has been living at a shelter for homeless veterans in New York City. The Jericho Protect will help her move into her own home. But according to the Veterans Administration, more than 100,000 veterans still live in shelters or on the streets.