In Their Own Words: Veterans with Disabilities Share Their Housing Challenges

In Their Own Words: Veterans with Disabilities Share Their Housing Challenges
Luz Mairena Semeah, Sherry Ahrentzen, Diane C. Cowper-Ripley, Leslie M. Santos-Roman, Julia O. Beamish, Kristine Farley
Housing Policy Debate
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For Veterans1 with a military-related disability, finding a home that accommodates their health conditions can be challenging. Research on people with disabilities demonstrates this task’s magnitude. Housing discrimination and a lack of accessible and affordable housing create severe housing barriers for people with disabilities. This is compounded by the fact that people in the US with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor and unemployed than those without disabilities. To help understand the unique challenges faced by Veterans with military-related disabilities, this qualitative study sought the input of Veterans from the across the US to identify the facilitators and barriers to finding and maintaining suitable rental housing.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 45 Veteran renters with military-related disabilities through social media, connections from Veteran service organizations, and interactions at events organized for and by Veterans. Researchers administered a questionnaire online, by telephone, and in person to collect data on the Veterans’ demographic characteristics, their process of seeking rental housing, their current satisfaction with housing accessibility features, and their military service–connected disability rating (SCDR).2 The researchers coded the responses and used thematic analysis to identify, analyze, and report patterns within the data. The researchers obtained responses to the open-ended questions from 39 of 45 Veterans. Respondents in the sample were less likely to be married, were more racially diverse, and were more likely to be unemployed and to have lower household earnings than the broader Veteran population. More than half of the sample reported having a SCDR of 70 percent or more.

Key findings

  • Respondents indicated that understanding the regulations for receiving subsidized housing was difficult and the lack of pertinent information and educational support to guide them through these programs and policies hindered their ability to find and maintain affordable housing.
  • Respondents cited the lack of available affordable and quality housing in suitable neighborhoods as a barrier. The limited number of housing vouchers and the restriction of vouchers to project-based housing made it challenging to find accessible housing in neighborhoods that met their needs. Many Veterans indicated that housing they could afford was in unsafe areas that were not conducive to substance abuse recovery or reintegration into civilian life.
  • Some respondents noted that bad credit scores as a result of extended hospitalizations and mental health issues affected their ability to secure housing.
  • Veterans with physical disabilities reported concerns about housing professionals’ (landlords, building managers, realtors, and so on) lack of knowledge about the Fair Housing Amendment Act’s disability provisions, such as exceptions for service animals and for reasonable accommodations and modifications that enable independent living.
  • Respondents emphasized that finding housing with the accessibility elements and building design features they needed was challenging and expensive. Some Veterans opted to live in nonaccessible units, making their own home modifications or relying on hired care staff to help Veterans meet their basic needs.
  • For Veterans transitioning back into civilian life, barriers to housing included an inability to find employment and a lack of information on the support programs and rental assistance available.
  • Respondents called for Veteran-specific housing programs, advocacy, information dissemination, and policy changes to help with finding and maintaining suitable rental housing in neighborhoods that met their needs and promoted economic mobility.

Policy implications

  • The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the US Department of Defense’s transition programs may be key conduits for providing Veterans with disabilities targeted information and assistance in identifying suitable and safe neighborhoods with affordable and accessible housing.
  • Focusing on partnering with non-VA organizations can provide the full spectrum of services needed to support Veterans and their families, leveraging community resources to support Veterans with disabilities throughout the continuum of community reintegration.
  • Consideration should be given to the long-term financial security of Veterans to prevent negative financial consequences they experience because of the immediate or late onset of mental, cognitive, or physical disabilities.

1In alignment with the original research and the Department of Veteran Affairs, we capitalized the word Veteran as a sign of respect to those who dedicate their lives to service.

2The SCDR is a process of the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine the extent or effect of any service-connected disability on a Veteran’s ability to earn income. The higher the rating, the greater the disability.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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