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New Report Shows One-Third of Homeless Men Seeking Housing at Shelters Are Veterans of the

November 9, 1997

New Report Shows One-Third of Homeless Men Seeking Housing at Shelters Are Veterans of the Korean, Vietnam or Gulf WarsBy BETH POWELL

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A third of homeless men seeking shelter are veterans, mostly combat veterans from the Korean, Vietnam or the Persian Gulf conflicts, according to a Veterans Day survey released Saturday.

``War is something that breaks people,″ said Phil Rydman, spokesman for the International Union of Gospel Missions, a network of rescue missions that conducted the survey.

``Some people are not able to get back into civilian life because of what they have experienced in the conflict setting.″

Rydman said that what used to be called ``shell shock″ and is now referred to as post-traumatic stress syndrome sets in at different times, accounting for the continuing flow of Vietnam veterans into missions 20 years after the war.

The survey of 11,000 men seeking shelter in 58 missions in late October showed 32 percent were veterans. By comparison, Veterans Administration figures show about 19 percent of the male population are former members of the armed forces.

In the missions’ survey for Veterans Day 1996, the percentage of veterans among the homeless was slightly higher, 34 percent.

Of the homeless veterans surveyed this year, 42 percent were Vietnam veterans. Vietnam vets represent only about 10 percent of the overall veteran population, according to figures from Vietnam Veterans of America and the VA.

Stephen Burger, executive director of the missions, said Vietnam veterans continue to fall through the cracks, often after multiple divorces and struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.

``We’re still getting new Vietnam veterans. They’re still falling out of the system,″ Burger said. ``That should be a little shocking to us.″

``They didn’t come back and become homeless. They came back and became part of the community, and then things happened that made them become homeless,″ he said. ``Many of these people are struggling with identity. They are struggling with guilt.″

Rydman noted that 10 percent of the veterans surveyed by the shelters had served in the Korean War in the early 1950s and another 10 percent in the Gulf War in 1991.

``There’s a very short time between military conflict and life in the streets. That’s something to be concerned about,″ Rydman said.

Burger said Gulf War veterans coming to shelters have different problems than the older Vietnam vets.

Gulf War veterans were drawn to the military by the slogan ``Be all that you can be,″ but ``came out not having gained what they needed to live in civilian life,″ Burger said. ``Driving a tank doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to work in an office or at McDonald’s.″

The survey showed that 71 percent of homeless veterans have honorable discharges. Another 24 percent had general or medical discharges, and only 5 percent reported dishonorable discharges.

``That shows that they did their job,″ Rydman said. ``That flies in the face of the stereotype that homeless people are life’s dropouts.″

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