Military Discharge Status of Homeless Veterans with Mental Illness

Gail Gamache, Robert Rosenheck and Richard Tessler

November 2000

The high proportion of veterans among homeless men is perplexing given the opportunities associated with military service and the benefits long available to veterans. One little-examined risk factor for homelessness is that many homeless men may have received punitive discharges that result in ineligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. Data from a sample of homeless male veterans with mental illness enrolled in the Access to Community Care and Effective Services and Supports Program are used to examine punitive discharges as a risk factor for homelessness and to compare veterans with punitive and non-punitive discharges on premilitary, military, and postmilitary experiences. Only 7% of homeless veterans received punitive discharges. Pre-military experiences are associated with such discharges, but military experiences are not. Although a punitive discharge is a strong risk factor for subsequent homelessness, such discharges primarily reflect premilitary vulnerabilities and are a relatively minor reason for homelessness because they affect a small proportion of the general veteran population.

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