In 2018, CAVSA released the ‘State of the Veteran Community Report.’ In light of the recent federal government shutdown, CAVSA members comment on the alarming and growing mental health needs of California’s veterans.
“We understand the obstacles veterans face — including homelessness, poverty, unemployment and disability – are interrelated and require an integrated network of support and continuum of care throughout the country,” said Chuck Helget, Executive Director of CAVSA. “We are honored to have been granted funds by MHSOAC to help identify opportunities to improve services for veterans and to further develop reporting mechanisms.”
California is home to nearly 1.8 million veterans, the largest veteran population in the nation. Unlike homeless veterans in other parts of the U.S. where 38% are unsheltered, a shocking 67% of California veterans were unsheltered in 2017. Veterans are disproportionately represented among California’s homeless population, and experience mental health, substance abuse and employment challenges far greater than their peers. For example, the 2014 suicide rate was 21% higher among veterans when compared with U.S. civilian adults, including 18% higher among male veterans and 2.4 times higher among female veterans.
“Unfortunately, this report shows what we in the veteran community have known for some time; that our service members are suffering catastrophic and even fatal repercussions from mental and emotional effects from war as they transition from service to civilian life as veterans,” said Stephen Peck, President, U.S.VETS. “We are committed to continue to find new ways to competently and compassionately serve veteran mental health needs, including through increased data collection and reporting.”
The report looks at four main indicators associated with mental illnesses: homelessness, suicide rates, opioid overdoses, and incarceration. However, a lack of data emerged as a top concern in the development of this report. A notable absence of partnerships, shared knowledge, and formal communication between Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) and non-veteran service organizations created prevalent challenges in collecting data. Additionally, there was no detailed information on sub-categories of veteran populations. For example, data on women veterans, veterans in substance use disorder treatments, and justice-involved and incarcerated veterans is either missing or varies so widely so as to be called into question.
Despite data collection challenges, several major concerns were substantiated by national and statewide statistics. Report findings include:
- Veterans have increased rates of homelessness:
- 6% (11,472) of all homeless veterans nationwide resided in California – a 19.4% increase from 2016 to 2017.
- Female veteran homelessness rates are three times greater than their non-veteran civilian peers.
- Veteran suicide rates are higher than non-veterans:
- Although veterans comprise only about 8.5% of the U.S. adult population, veteran suicides account for 18% of all U.S. adult suicides.
- Veterans may be at increased risks for opioid abuse:
- While data in this area is limited, evidence shows that about a dozen California counties have opioid overdose death rates that are more than twice the overall State rate, but when comparing these counties to counties with high veteran populations, there is a substantial and concerning overlap of high opioid overdose deaths in counties with high percentages of veterans.
- Veterans may not be accessing treatment and diversion programs available to them:
- Although the precise number of justice-involved and incarcerated veterans in California is not known, it is clear that not all eligible veterans are being diverted to treatment settings in Veteran Treatment Courts (VTCs) nor taking advantage of California laws, such as PC § 1001.80 and PC § 1170.9 which permit sentences to therapy instead of incarceration.
- Only 53% of California counties currently have VTCs or comparable Collaborative Courts for veterans.
The report was funded through a grant from the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission
“As home to the largest veteran population in the U.S., California has the unique opportunity to lead the nation with our determination to “do right by” our veterans and their families. That is why CAVSA has aligned our 2019 priorities with addressing the major concerns proven in this report. We look forward to working with federal, state, and local agencies to bring improved advocacy, education, and service to our treasured community of veterans,” Helget added.
Read more about the 2018 State of the Veteran Community Report, and download supporting materials here.