Four years ago Veronica Witherspoon was stationed in Baghdad, enduring roiling sandstorms and near-daily rocket fire as she worked as a Navy petty officer at Camp Victory.
By January, she had left the military, lost her job as a civilian contractor, split with her husband and ended up virtually homeless, bunking with family members. Deeply ashamed of her predicament but desperate for a way out, she ran across a story on a military website for a new program for female veterans called Final Salute.
Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs has made strides in its five-year campaign to end veteran homelessness.
Though the overall number of homeless veterans declined 12 percent between 2010 and 2011, the number of homeless female veterans is increasing, the VA said in a draft report this month, and these women are now the fastest-growing segment of the homeless veterans population.
Officially, homeless female veterans number about 3,328, a figure that doubled from 2006 to 2010, according to an estimate from the Government Accountability Office, although the GAO says the data are incomplete and the actual number is likely higher. Many of them are mothers, middle-aged or suffering from some kind of disability.
The VA acknowledged in the report that there was an “acute” need to improve services for the growing number of female veterans, because they are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems, to have suffered sexual trauma during their military service and to have a greater risk of homelessness than their male counterparts.
“We have a demographic shift in the makeup of our fighting forces and it’s starting to appear in homelessness, with more women leaving the military and becoming homeless,” said Daniel Bertoni, the GAO’s director of disability issues. Traditionally, “a lot of the systems of support have been geared toward men. A lot of these shelters don’t support children.”
Place story under “Health and Wellness.” Study: Binge drinking among adults on the rise
Binge drinking is not just for college students anymore.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three-fourths of binge drinking episodes involve adults over the age of 26, and more than 30 million American adults binge drink on an average of four times a month.
While the majority of binge drinkers are not alcoholics, the effects on health and mortality are causes for concern.
“Before, what we looked at in alcohol research was alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse, but now we’re looking at something much more subtle and it’s called risk drinking,” said Dr. Daniel Bober, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist.
For men, at risk or binge drinking means more than four drinks in one sitting, or more than 14 drinks per week.
For women, it means more than three drinks in one sitting, or more than seven drinks per week.
“Everyone is looking for an escape. Everyone is looking for a quick fix. They’re looking for a way to just tune out and not have to deal with life and have a different reality,” said Dr. Bober.
Gloria started binge drinking in her 30s as an escape from a difficult divorce.
“I thought I had a handle on it and I didn’t,” she said.
By the time she married a second time, she said her binge drinking had evolved into alcoholism.
“I probably walked down the aisle totally wasted but I didn’t think anybody knew and of course they did,” Gloria added.