I am deeply suspicious of studies showing that America’s veterans are in worse shape — more drug addicted, more alcoholic, more insane, suicidal, more homeless — than the rest of the population. I was sold that bill of goods in the post-Vietnam era and it was a lie, meant to malign the military establishment and the wars they fought. So I’m taking with a huge grain of salt a story in USA Today stating that the Obama administration is reporting that vets are substantially more likely to be homeless than the general population:
Military veterans are much more likely to be homeless than other Americans, according to the government’s first in-depth study of homelessness among former service members.
About 16% of homeless adults in a one-night survey in January 2009 were veterans, though vets make up only 10% of the adult population.
More than 75,000 veterans were living on the streets or in a temporary shelter that night. In that year, 136,334 veterans spent at least one night in a homeless shelter — a count that did not include homeless veterans living on the streets.
The urgency of the problem is growing as more people return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study found 11,300 younger veterans, 18 to 30, were in shelters at some point during 2009. Virtually all served in Iraq or Afghanistan, said Mark Johnston, deputy assistant secretary for special needs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
You can read more here, but it’s in the same vein, pointing out that only minorities beat vets for homelessness. I have two comments about this study purporting to show that our vets are greater losers than the average American citizen:
1. The big number — 16% of homeless adults were vets, even though vets are only 10% of the population — comes from a one night study! Am I insane, or is that a totally un-random sampling? Also, this was a one night study more than two years ago. Again, am I insane, or could the situation have changed since that single night two years ago?
2. As I’ve pointed out in an old post regarding studies purporting to show that veterans, as a group, are more likely to commit suicide, there’s no indication that this study adjusts for the facts that veterans are a predominantly male group, in their late teens and 20s. With regard to suicide studies, that demographic is generally more likely to commit suicide, so comparing veteran suicide statistics to suicide statistics for the population as a whole is fundamentally dishonest. I wonder therefore if this one night study done two years ago adjusts for the fact that, as with suicide, homeless people sare ubstantially more likely to be men:
- 61% Single men
- 15% Single women
- 12.2% Women with children
- 4.6% Other women
- 5.3% Other men
- 2.3% Men with children
That means that a predominantly male military is statistically more likely to produce homeless people than some other institution that has a more balanced male/female demographic.
I’m betting that there are lots of homeless veterans in America because there are lots of homeless men in America. It’s a problem for the nation as a whole, especially during bad economic times — economic times, I might add, that are bad because the administration now pushing this study has been yanking money out of the private sector as fast as it can. To try to use this problem to tar our military and our veterans is sleazy and dishonest.
UPDATE: Spartacus’ comment deserves to be shared up here:
It’s always good to question true randomness and statistical significance of sampling, and to mentally shift the numbers around to see if there are unreported reasons why the data are the way they are. But it’s also important to question the data. And I would like to suggest that therein lies the true explanation for why so many homeless people report veteran status:
Homelessness and panhandling are strongly correlated. And panhandling being basically a sales job, in which one sells oneself as an object of pity, “veteran status” is extremely widespread — who couldn’t help but feel sorry for someone who had a bright future ahead of them until they got all traumatized by horrors they saw in the jungles of Southeast Asia while trying, patriotically, to serve their country?
Ever wonder how that panhandler on the corner next to the offramp could be a Vietnam vet, but only look about forty? Is it the living out in the elements and keeping his liver well-lubricated with Old English 800 that keeps his skin looking so youthful? No. He never particularly applied himself studying history or math, so the discrepancy doesn’t occur to him, and he heard from others that you get more money if you dress up in a forestland-pattern camo field jacket (available in many sizes at any Goodwill store) and put “Vietnam vet” on your sign. Ask him what his MOS was, and he’ll draw a blank. What unit did he serve in? What AO when downrange? What does it say on his DD 214? Don’t expect lucid answers.
And it is a lazy (or ideologically biased) “scientist” who will simply accept these responses at face value, even when they are quite the statistical anomaly.