The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needs to do more to help homeless women veterans, whose numbers are increasing rapidly as servicemembers return from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In its report, Homeless Women Veterans: Actions Needed to Ensure Safe and Appropriate Housing, the GAO cites "limited VA data" showing the number of homeless women veterans in the U.S. has more than doubled, from about 1,380 in 2006 to 3,328 in 2010.
While acknowledging the VA's initiatives to end homelessness among all veterans, the GAO found that the VA does not have enough data about the specific needs of women veterans to plan effectively for increases in their numbers as servicemembers return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the VA, women now comprise 8% of all veterans, compared to only 4.4% in 1988. In addition, women now make up 12% of all veterans who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
"Without improved services," wrote the GAO in its report, "women -- including those with children and those who have experienced military sexual trauma -- remain at risk of homelessness and experiencing further abuse."
While the VA reports that PTSD, hypertension, and depression were the top three service-related disabilities among women veterans treated under VA health care in 2010, about 1 in 5 women seen in VA facilities now respond "yes" when screened for Military Sexual Trauma.
GAO expressed concern that life challenges contributing to homelessness may be more pronounced for women veterans suffering from "disabling psychological conditions" resulting from military sexual trauma and for those dealing with being single mothers.
GAO Recommends: The GAO recommended that the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) work together to make sure that adequate data are collected on homelessness among women veterans, including those with children and those with disabilities, in order to develop successful strategies for serving their growing population.
Also See: Homelessness is far from the only challenge facing women veterans "When Jenny Comes Marching Home," according to About Guide to Women's Issues Linda Lowen, who notes that, "Female veterans returning from war are often overlooked or worse, their service to America is frequently misunderstood and belittled."
In 2009, the VA launched its initiative to end homelessness among all veterans by 2015. In an effort to meet this goal several programs to house homeless veterans have been funded. The two largest programs funded so are the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program, which provides transitional housing and supportive services, and the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which provides permanent supportive housing.
Photo: Last US Troops Leave Iraq - Mario Tama/Getty Images