Protect Homeless Veterans

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There are more than eighteen million living veterans in the United States of America, and almost two million of them are women (1). Women Veterans are the fastest growing group within the veteran community, projected to increase at a rate of almost 18,000 women per year for the next ten years (2).

Since 2006 the suicide rate among women veterans has consistently risen (3). Today, women veterans are 250% more likely to commit suicide than civilian women (2). The rate of women veterans committing suicide is just as high in the over-fifty age group as it is in the under-fifty age group. Additionally, the number of all homeless veterans who were women in 2017, increased by seven percent (4).

The State of Florida has the second largest population of women veterans in the United States with more than 144,000 women represented (5). The Northeastern section of the state has the highest concentration of women veterans and reportedly the most enrolled women in the Veteran Integrated Service Network (VISN) in the United States. In spite of their strength in numbers, they remain the most underserved individuals in the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System.  

For example, in 2017, a young woman veteran reported to the Jacksonville Outpatient Clinic, in Florida, to seek shelter as a homeless woman veteran and was given a Community Resource and Referral Center sheet with the names and contact information for five civilian shelters, all the facilities required check-in prior to 2:30 pm and none had rooms or beds available that night. The social worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic had no additional resources to offer. The woman veteran was relentless in her efforts to obtain housing and was encouraged by a local woman veteran organization to visit the centers until shelter was made available.

Eventually, she was offered three blankets and floor space at a facility that has reportedly received millions of dollars to house veterans. During her processing at one of the facilities, she was asked to exchange telephone numbers with a worker from one of the other agencies listed on the sheet, at his promise of assisting her with help obtaining housing and job assistance, later that evening, he asked her to dinner. This is an example of the challenges faced by women veterans in the pursuit of transition assistance and housing.

This change.org petition is a formal notice to alert those in command of the conditions and processes currently experienced by Women Veterans in the North Florida area. Two of the top three conditions for women veterans in a 2015 report were, treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is Military Sexual Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Both conditions are major contributors to the women veteran homelessness and suicide rates and unfortunately, the current system does not adequately assess these medical conditions. The referral system for the veterans of our nation is broken and in dire need of immediate and major reform. To combat the challenges stated above, we seek the following changes:

1) Screening and assessment of veterans who present themselves as homeless should be completed by trained staff of the Department of Veteran Affairs to confirm identity, assess mental capacity, verify state of distress and refer them to temporary shelter, that is safe, clean and in a non-threatening environment, until they can be enrolled into one of the longer term/more permanent housing programs. 

2) Women veterans should NEVER be referred to civilian agencies where male residents are the primary occupants. They should only be placed in all-women veteran facilities/organizations with private rooms. The suicide rate for women veterans is too high to force interaction with civilian women, require mandatory sleeping rooms with other individuals or force integration without first assessing mental health capacity. In case no one has noticed, Women Veterans are committing SUICIDE at alarmingly high rates: opting to leave their children, spouses, and families, rather than face the pressures of daily life. Women Veterans are at CRISIS levels (Color Red), have been screaming for HELP and are not being HEARD.

3) There should be an evaluation at every Department of Veterans Affairs Health Facility across the nation to assess the system used to refer or recommend veterans in need of housing.  Every facility that currently refers women veterans to civilian shelters that are also occupied by men should be evaluated and assessed for safety/safe distance standards. Have a formal disciplinary process in place for men who cattle-call, make obscene gestures, expose any part of their body, pressure the women veteran for personal favors or has any similar action that equates to sexual harassment/assault of the Women Veteran with the same equal protection in place for men veterans.

4) The top five states with the most women veteran residents, should be leaders of program development and reform for women veteran initiatives. To assist with that goal, any state that receives more than 50 million dollars in defense-related spending from the federal government or its contracted agencies should be required to show proof of no less than five percent of the profits earned from that funding as being donated to veteran service organizations/agencies founded and operated solely for the service of veterans, with a mandatory one percent for women veteran organizations and programs. This money should not be funded into National Programs whose primary mission and focus of the previous ten years has not included women veteran programs. 

5) Order the five states with the largest Women Veteran populations (TEXAS, CALIFORNIA, FLORIDA, VIRGINIA, AND GEORGIA) to show proof of federal funds received to develop women veteran housing/programs for the last five years (2013-2018) and the organizations who were in receipt of those federal funds. The amounts received and agencies in receipt of the funds should be listed on the Department of Veterans Affairs website for all women veterans to see. Essentially, there needs to be transparency and oversight for the federal dollars used for housing women veterans up to this point. Where has the money for women veteran housing and programs been allocated; who was it given to; and where are the corresponding programs/housing that was created or improved with the funds? This public information is asked to be reported by all five states with the highest women veteran population from henceforth and submitted with all end of fiscal year reports (2018+).   

A response to the above-suggested changes is requested by August 01, 2019, from the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Senators of the State of Florida. Now that you know; what will you do?

If no response is received from those listed on this petition by August 01, 2019, All Women Veterans should be prepared to march/roll/walk/stand/sit at all Department of Veterans Affairs Client Based Outpatient Clinics and facilities across the nation and be prepared to continue the march/protests until an adequate response is received, beginning on a day set by Women Veterans across the States.

Veteran Brothers, please stand in solidarity with us. No Veteran of the United States Armed Forces should be offered the "floor or door" in response to a homeless assistance request. 

***Please note this petition has been amended and extended due to the unforeseen removal of Secretary Shulkin, it has been amended since the announcement of his replacement.***

[1] “Profile of Veterans: 2015” National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics: https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/Profile_of_Veterans_2015.pdf

[2] “Women’s Veterans Report, The Past, Present and Future of Women Veterans,” Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, February 2017: https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/Women_Veterans_2015_Final.pdf

[3] “Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans 2001-2014,” Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Suicide Prevention, Updated August 2017: https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/2016suicidedatareport.pdf 

[4] “The 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress,” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development, December 2017: https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2017-AHAR-Part-1.pdf

 [5] “Women Veterans Population,” Department of Veteran Affairs, Fast Facts, November 2017: https://www.va.gov/womenvet/docs/WomenVeteransPopulationFactSheet.pdf