Aussie heroes ending up on the street
New research has revealed the extent of homelessness experienced by Australian veterans, and it's much higher than anyone previously feared.
Over a three-year period, experts from the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW and the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide conducted the most comprehensive study of its kind into the plight of former servicemen and women.
Researchers also examined the pathways into homelessness for those who've served their country, uncovering unique risk factors.
The results, published today in the Australian Journal of Social Issues, are startling.
Approximately 5800 veterans were found to be homeless over the course of a 12-month period, making them significantly over-represented in the total homeless population.
"While international research has shown that veterans are at a greater risk of homelessness in comparison to the general population, the extent of the problem in Australia has not been known until the completion of our research," co-author Dr Fiona Hilferty from UNSW said.
"This has prevented definitive service planning, with veterans not recognised as a priority cohort within national homelessness policy.
"The findings of our research point to the urgent need for veterans to receive priority attention from policymakers and housing organisations."
Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, told news.com.au he's concerned about any instance of veteran homelessness.
"The Federal Government is committed to putting veterans and their families first and has committed $11.5 billion this financial year to provide a wide range of support services to around 320,000 veterans and dependants," Mr Chester said.
"There are many factors that can contribute to homelessness, such as relationship breakdown, unemployment and mental health issues."
Homeless veterans who took part in the research reported similar risk factors to other rough sleepers, including mental illness, poverty and substance abuse.
"However, our research also identified a number of unique factors that increase the risk of becoming homeless for veterans," Dr Hilferty said.
"These risks include relationship breakdown, being medically discharged from the Defence Force, and being unemployed for more than three months following the transition from military service."
Mr Chester said the government is working to address those types of issues before veterans find themselves at risk of homelessness.
"This has included Defence adopting a needs-based approach to transition, better employment support, free mental health care for life, and payments for those veterans in financial stress while their claim for compensation is in progress with the Department of Veterans' Affairs."
This year, Mr Chester successfully lobbied for the next Census to include a question about service in ADF, to better understand where veterans live and what services they might require.
"Historically, just because a person served in the ADF doesn't mean they required services or support from DVA, making it hard to give a definitive answer on how many veterans are in Australia," Mr Chester said.
"The Census will provide better data to help guide services and support for Australia's veterans, and will help inform our policy response to issues facing veterans, such as health, housing and employment."
It's hoped the resulting data will provide comprehensive insights of the veteran population to better target support and services, he said.
Mr Chester said a number of support services were available for any veteran experiencing homelessness, or those at risk of homelessness.
Open Arms is a counselling service for veterans and their families and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on 1800 011 046, and can provide access to emergency housing.
The Department of Veterans' Affairs can be contacted on 1800 555 254.
Originally published as Aussie heroes ending up on the street