There are few topics broader than veteran suicide and veteran homelessness, but that doesn’t mean each can’t be tackled, a Marine Corps veteran and veterans advocate says.
“Both are multi-faceted problems,” explained Afghanistan veteran Lyle, who now serves as executive director of the advocacy group Mission Roll Call.
Department of Veterans Affairs officials announced on Jan. 26 that the total number of veterans experiencing homelessness decreased by 11% since January 2020.
VA also said it permanently housed 40,401 homeless veterans in 2022, exceeding its goal of 38,000 by 6.3%.
In total, VA said the estimated number of veterans experiencing homelessness in America has declined by 6.3% since 2010.
“That decrease still represents thousands of veterans on the street,” said Lyle.
And in September of 2022, VA announced that fewer veterans died by suicide in 2020 than in any year since 2006. In 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths, which was 343 fewer than in 2019. That means 16.8 veterans committed suicide each day in 2020. That number was at its highest in 2018 when it was 18.6 per day.
Lyle argues that many factors can lead a veteran to become homeless or to end their life – everything from substance abuse to financial stress and unemployment to relationship issues.
“The number one thing we continue to harp on is that the VA considers suicide prevention as a mental issue,” he said. “There’s more to it than that.”
Giving veterans the tools they need to prevent homelessness or a suicide attempt shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach, Lyle said. The root causes of what is causing the difficulty have to be addressed in order for a positive outcome to become possible for the veteran.
“VA is the second largest bureaucracy in the United States behind the DoD and it’s the largest health care system in the country, so changing anything that large isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, Lyle said. He applauded VA’s recent grant funding for community-based groups working to prevent suicide. Mission Roll Call is also advocating for VA’s Office of Suicide Prevention to report directly to the VA secretary.
Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.