Association of substance use and VA service-connected disability benefits with risk of homelessness among veterans

Edens EL, Kasprow W, Tsai J, Rosenheck RA.
Am J Addict. 2011 Sep-Oct;20(5):412-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1521-0391.2011.00166.x. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

SOURCE:  VA New England Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, 950 Campbell Avenue, West Haven, CT 06516, USA.

Recent public attention on homelessness has shifted beyond emergency services and supportive housing to primary prevention. This study compares a national sample of homeless and nonhomeless Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health services users to determine risk and protective factors for homelessness. Using VA administrative data, veterans were identified as homeless (ie, used VA homeless services or received a diagnostic code for “lack of housing”) or nonhomeless and compared using logistic regression. Additional analyses were conducted for two low-risk subgroups: veterans who served in current Middle East wars (Operation Enduring Freedom [OEF]/Operation Iraqi Freedom [OIF]) and veterans with ≥50% service-connected disability. Among all VA mental health users, OEF/OIF (odds ratio [OR]) = 0.4) and ≥50% service-connected (OR = .3) veterans were less likely to be homeless. In the overall and subgroup analyses, illicit drug use (OR = 3.3-4.7) was by far the strongest predictor of homelessness, followed by pathological gambling (PG) (OR = 2.0-2.4), alcohol use disorder (OR = 1.8-2.0), and having a personality disorder (OR = 1.6-2.2). In both low-risk groups, severe mental illness (schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), along with substance use disorders, PG, and personality disorders, increased homelessness risk. Substance use, PG, and personality disorders confer the greatest modifiable risk of homelessness among veterans using VA services, while service-connected disability conferred reduced risk. Clinical prevention efforts could focus on these factors.