WASHINGTON - More than 400 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have turned up homeless, and the Veterans Affairs Department and aid groups say they are bracing for a new surge in homeless veterans in the years ahead.
Specialists who work with veterans say it often takes several years after leaving military service for veterans' accumulating problems to push them into the streets. But some aid workers say Iraq and Afghanistan veterans appear to be turning up sooner than the Vietnam veterans did.
"We're beginning to see, across the country, the first trickle of this generation of warriors in homeless shelters," said Phil Landis, chairman of Veterans Village of San Diego, a residence and counseling center. "But we anticipate that it's going to be a tsunami."
Special traits of the current wars may contribute to homelessness, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, which can cause unstable behavior and substance abuse, and the long and repeated tours of duty.
Frederick Johnson, 37, an Army reservist, slept in abandoned houses shortly after returning to Chester, Pa., from a year in Iraq. He started using crack cocaine and drinking, burning through $6,000 in savings.
On the street for a year, he finally checked in at a VA clinic. The VA has provided temporary housing as he starts a new job.