What’s the Connection Between PTSD & Homeless Veterans?

What’s the Connection Between PTSD & Homeless Veterans?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of mental illness that affects many Veterans, including many in the homeless Veteran population.

Many Veterans experience traumatic events that cause PTSD. There are times when the symptoms of PTSD occur immediately after a traumatic event or times when they do not happen until years after.

PTSD is a serious illness that can disrupt a Veteran’s life. Both combative and non-combative service in the military can cause PTSD in veterans. No matter how it was caused, both situations can produce severe symptoms.

Key Takeaways:

  • You’ll know what PTSD is
  • You’ll learn what the symptoms are of PTSD
  • You’ll understand the connection between PTSD and Veterans in the homeless population
  • You’ll learn about the most effective treatments available
  • You’ll know who to reach out to for help
  • You’ll know if you qualify for disability benefits and health care assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can develop when someone experiences a traumatic event.

Depending on the event’s severity, some will recover quickly and not have any problems long after the event. However, many Veterans develop symptoms that occur over time. These symptoms of PTSD can leave a Veteran feeling at harm or in danger, even if they are not.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD will usually begin within three months of the traumatic event. However, it can be years until they develop.

In order to be considered PTSD, the symptoms have to last more than a month and interfere with relationships or employment.

A medical professional that specializes in mental health will be able to diagnose whether or not a Veteran has PTSD. For a Veteran to be diagnosed with PTSD, they must experience all of the following symptoms for at least one month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal symptoms
  • At least two cognition symptoms

These symptoms are the four main categories in which symptoms of PTSD are classified.

Re-experiencing symptoms can include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Bad dreams

Avoidance symptoms can include:

  • Avoiding people, places, or things that remind the Veteran of the traumatic event
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings that remind the Veteran of the traumatic event

Arousal and reactivity symptoms can include:

  • Feeling tense or on edge
  • Easily startled
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Angry outburst

Cognition and mood symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty remembering details of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or others
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Lack of interest in activities

What Is the Link Between PTSD and Veteran Homelessness?

PTSD can radically alter a Veteran’s life. Feeling isolated and always on edge can drive people away from their families, friends, and jobs. The transition from the military to regular everyday life can also be a challenge for many Veterans.

Veterans who have encountered traumatic experiences need help and treatment in order to transition back home. Yet sadly, many Veterans go unhelped. If they struggle with PTSD and do not find treatment for it, it has the potential to get increasingly worse.

There are many times when PTSD is one of the risk factors for homelessness. Research estimates that around 11% of homeless people are Veterans, while the rest are non-Veterans from other walks of life. There are several factors that can explain the prevalence of PTSD among Veterans.

The Veterans at risk of homelessness are not always from one particular war. Some could be from the Vietnam War, while others can be from Afghanistan or Iraq. No matter when or where military service occurred, U.S. Veterans can go through traumatic events that lead them to be homeless and leave them with other health issues as well. 

Men and women Veterans who struggle with PTSD and cannot find traditional housing do not always come from a war zone. Many times, Veterans experience trauma even in non-combat situations. These might include instances of sexual trauma, the effects of social isolation, or the effects of unaddressed substance use disorders while in the military.

How Are PTSD and Homelessness Connected?

But what is the direct link between PTSD and homelessness?

Feelings of social isolation can lead Veterans who have PTSD to destructive methods of self-medicating. Whether that is substance abuse, alcoholism, or further isolation, a lack of treatment leaves Veterans feeling that they are without help.

This self-medication through harmful means is usually due to the neglect of treatment and care that many Veterans with PTSD have. All of these factors combined usually will predispose a Veteran to homelessness.

Many researchers have noted that the lack of support and isolation that people with PTSD experience is a direct link to homelessness.

What Effective Treatments Are There for PTSD?

Treatment from mental health service providers is extremely important for military service providers struggling with a serious mental illness like PTSD. Treatment will allow Veterans to get back into a normal routine and manage their symptoms.

One of the most recommended forms of treatment is trauma-focused psychotherapy. Therapy that is trauma-focused means that the treatment focuses on the memory of the traumatic event. The therapist will then give the Veteran tools to help cope with the symptoms of PTSD.

Trauma-focused psychotherapy can take the form of visualizing, talking, or thinking about the traumatic event and changing unhelpful or negative beliefs about the event. There are three main types of trauma-focused psychotherapy with the strongest evidence:

  • Prolonged exposure: Teaches the Veteran how to deal with their negative feelings and gain control. It also involves talking about the trauma and doing activities that the Veteran may have avoided since the trauma.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: This type teaches the Veteran to reframe the negative thoughts regarding the trauma. It involves both talking to the care provider about the trauma and doing short writing assignments.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: This type helps the Veteran to make sense of and process the trauma. It involves recalling the trauma to the mind while focusing on an object that is moving back and forth.

Other forms of treatment for PTSD involve psychiatry. Many Veterans will do a combination of both therapy and medication in order to lessen the impacts of PTSD on their mental and physical health.

No matter what form the Veteran chooses to help treat their PTSD, it is just important that they do so. A lack of interventions for PTSD can negatively affect the long-term physical and mental health of a Veteran.

Filing a Claim for PTSD

It is important for a Veteran to have an experienced support network backing them up when they go to make a claim, which is why Berry Law is here to assist any Veteran that needs representation.

For years, confusion surrounded the seriousness of PTSD. Thankfully, it is now recognized as a serious mental health disorder that disrupts the lives of people, including many Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan Veterans.

Certain VA programs offer benefits to Veterans in the general population who struggle with PTSD. To receive benefits from the VA for PTSD, a claim must have the necessary components.

One of the main components is a service connection. This means that a Veteran’s PTSD is directly linked to their time in the military.

There are three things that a claim must show to prove a service connection:

  1. Clinically diagnosed PTSD under the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
  2. Proof of an in-service stressor
  3. Medical evidence to provide a link between the in-service stressor and the current diagnosis confirmed at a VA medical center

If the VA grants your service connection, they will then give a Veteran a rating based on the evidence in the claim that they provide. The VA rating has to be at least 10% or higher in order to receive compensation.

A Veteran may be able to get the disability benefits of a 100% rating even if the severity of their PTSD does not warrant it. 

The way to get these benefits is by qualifying for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). What this means is that the Veteran is unable to secure or follow gainful employment due to their PTSD.

If the VA rejects a claim or the Veteran believes they deserve a better rating, they can always contact our team to help them go through the appeal process.


PTSD is a scary and difficult mental health problem that affects many Veterans. Not only does it disrupt their work life, but has negative consequences on their families and friends as well.

Many researchers find a direct link between PTSD and homelessness among Veterans, and rightly so. The feelings of isolation and lack of support drive many to self-medicate in ways that pull them away from family and society.

It is important that if you or someone you know is a Veteran and struggles with PTSD, seek support and treatment. The sooner the treatment, the greater chance there is of overcoming many of the symptoms.

If you are looking for supportive services for homeless Veterans suffering from PTSD, consider researching the homeless programs and sources of PTSD research:

For any questions you may have or more information regarding VA claims and benefits, visit our website.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | NIMH

Homeless Veterans Living With PTSD

PTSD Treatment Basics

Home | National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

Home |

Home | National Center for PTSD

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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