Background: Female Veterans comprise 12% of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans, the largest proportion of women to serve of any prior cohort. We sought to determine the sex-specific risk of using a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) homeless program among OEF/OIF Veterans and to identify factors associated with increased risk of program use for women compared with men.
Methods: We included OEF/OIF Veterans with at least 1 VHA clinical visit between October 1, 2001, and September 30, 2009. The study's outcome was the time to first use of a VHA homeless program. Cox proportional-hazards regression was used to estimate the relative risk of using a homeless program by sex, adjusting for relevant sociodemographic and clinical variables. Exploratory analyses examined interactions between sex and all covariates.
Results: Of 445,319 Veterans, 7431 (1.7%) used a VHA homeless program, of which 961 were females (1.8%), and 6470 were males (1.7%) during a median follow-up period of 3.20 years. Women were as likely as men to use a homeless program (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.02; 95% confidence interval, 0.95-1.09); median time to first use was similar for female and male Veterans (1.88 vs. 1.88 y, respectively, P=0.53). In exploratory analyses, we found increased risk of program use for women compared with men for the following subgroups: ages 26-35 years, 100% service-connected disability rating, posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis, and northeast location.
Conclusions: Overall, there was no substantial difference in the sex-specific risk of using a VHA homeless program. In light of this finding, VHA homeless programs must be prepared to recognize and address the unique needs of female OEF/OIF Veterans.