Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
Army veteran Tara Eid, 50, writes an essay at New Directions women's house, a long-term transitional program for female veterans dealing with issues of homelessness, trauma and addiction, in Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2011. Eid was homeless many times over a period of 10 years.
The number of homeless female military veterans more than doubled from 2006 to 2010, according to new government estimates.
Acknowledging "limited VA data," homeless female vets numbered 3,328 in 2010, according to a report by the General Accounting Office published on Monday, up from 1,380 in 2006.
The report says actions are necessary to ensure homeless female veterans get the housing and services they need.
The GAO says a lack of coordination among the Veteran’s Administration and Housing and Urban Development, two government agencies that provide housing and services to homeless veterans, is hampering efforts to help these.
“Absent more complete data, VA does not have the information needed to plan services effectively, allocate grants to providers and track progress toward its overall goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015,” the report said.
“In reality, the number of homeless women vets is probably much higher, maybe by a factor of one-and-a half times,” Patrick Sherlock, executive director Project Foot, a Florida group that helps homeless veterans, told msnbc.com on Tuesday.
“They don’t count vets who are living in shelters,” Sherlock said. “And they don’t ask homeless people on the streets if they are veterans.”
The increase didn’t come as a surprise, Sherlock said, because of the increase in the number of female veterans overall. But he said there is no doubt the problem of homelesseness among veterans is "getting worse."
"Many returning vets have major psychological issues that leave them on the streets," Sherlock told msnbc.com. "Call it PTSD, shell shock or battle fatigue, they're not right."
Two-thirds of the homeless female veterans were between 40 and 59 years old, the report said, and over one-third had disabilities. In addition, many of these women lived with young children.
The report said homeless female veterans are often not aware of services available, and often shelters that are available do not take children.
“Without improved services, women — including those with children and those who have experienced military sexual trauma — remain at risk of homelessness and experiencing further abuse,” the report said.
The GAO urged the VA and HUD to collaborate to ensure proper data is collected on homeless female veterans, and ramp up services such as referrals to shelters and transitional housing.
On any given night some 67,000 veterans are homeless, according to the National Coaltion for Homeless Veterans, with men making up an estimated 95 percent of the total.
According to the GAO, officials from the VA and HUD “generally agreed” with the findings.
The report also points out that the number of female veterans will continue to rise as service members return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Some of these women veterans, like their male counterparts, face challenges readjusting to civilian life and are at risk of becoming homeless,” the report said. "Such challenges may be particularly pronounced for those women veterans who have disabling psychological conditions resulting from military sexual trauma and for those who are single mothers.”
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