Homelessness is a major issue in the United States. Among adults, military veterans are at increased risk. Studies continue to highlight the greater demand that homeless veterans place on emergency rooms and their increased risk for all-cause mortality, psychological disorders, substance use disorder, and other conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hepatitis, HIV, and traumatic brain injury.
Obtaining stable housing and finding other supportive services to maintain housing are critical to achieving better health. Brown and colleagues found lower depressive symptoms in older adults who had obtained housing compared to those who had not.
In 2015, the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) Office of Health Equity (OHE) initiated an agency-wide environmental scan to establish a baseline of activities that advance health equity. As a part of its mission, OHE aims to position the VHA as a national leader in achieving equity, to champion efforts to address health disparities and to capitalize on the existing networks in order to advance health equity and achieve equitable health care for all veterans. Medical centers and program offices were asked to identify programs and other activities related to the five focal areas (leadership; awareness; health outcomes; diversity and cultural competency of the workforce; and data, research, and evaluation) of the VHA Health Equity Action Plan, which is the agency’s strategic framework for achieving health equity. The purpose of this discussion paper is to describe a data-sharing initiative included in the environmental scan that seeks to cure the aforementioned challenges and now serves as an emerging best practice in the VHA for consistently identifying homeless veterans among the VA and local communities.