Landmark USC Study on Veterans Finds Need for More Help in Transition to Civilian Life

One in five veterans in Los Angeles was homeless for a part of last year, according to a newly-published survey that breaks new ground in detailing the challenges of transitioning from military duty to civilian life.

The report, entitled "The State of the American Veteran: The Los Angeles County Veterans Study," is based on interviews with 1,356 veterans.  The research and analysis were conducted by the USC School of Social Work, specifically its Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families.

Among its findings:

  • Half the surveyed veterans reported a significant physical or mental health issue for which they are not receiving care, and 45.8 percent of post-9/11 veterans screened positive for depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  
  • More than 25 percent of  reported being unemployed; another quarter said their jobs paid at or below the poverty level.
  • More than two-thirds reported difficulties adjusting to civilian life, and not knowing where to go or whom to contact for help.
  • Significantly more veterans since 9-11 described their transition as difficult.

The data demand "bold action," according to Anthony Hassan, the center's director who happens to be a veteran himself.

"The status quo is not going to do anymore. It's not okay to do what we've been doing, obviously," Hassan said at the study's release Tuesday, speaking to an audience in which news reporters were outnumbered by those who work with veterans.

Hassan and the authors envision a more "holistic" approach to dealing with veterans, encouraging the taking of complete assessments, rather than focusing on specific issues as they come up, what co-author Carl Andrew Castro dismissed as the "whack-a-mole" approach.

Other recommendations include the need for the Department of Defense to do more to prepare service members for transition before discharge. The Transition Assistance Program has been undergoing expanion under legislation passed by Congress in 2011.

"It's still a challenge, and as you see, the report makes clear that we all have a lot to do with better preparing transistioning service members for success once they get to the civilian communities," said Army Col. James Isenhour, Director of the Warrior and Family Support Office under the Office of the Joint Chiefs.

The study also found that 40 percent of the surveyed veterans never sought assistance from the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, better known simply as the VA.

Hassan sees the need for more assistance facilities to be provided at the local government and community level.

"I'm hoping this data will bring veterans issues as a priority for our government," Hassan said.

With 1.8 million former service members, California has the largest veteran population of any state, and no county has more veterans than Los Angeles, home to an estimated 325,000, with 12,000 more arriving every year.

One step in reducing veteran homelessness was evident not many blocks north of the USC campus in downtown at the refurbished Rosslyn Hotel.  Its owner, the Single Room Occupacy Corporation, has dedicated 75 units to veterans, and dozens have begun moving in, with federal rent vounchers provided through a VA program. 

"This is permanent supportive housing.  They have a lease.  They can stay as long as want.  This is home," said Anita Nelson, SRO's chief executive officer.

A similar exhaustive survey is in the works for veterans living in Orange County.

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