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Study: Military sexual assault makes veterans twice as likely to become homeless

A man walks beside a row of tents for the homeless in Los Angeles, Califorinia on May 12, 2015.
A man walks beside a row of tents for the homeless in Los Angeles, Califorinia on May 12, 2015.

report released Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association found veterans who experienced sexual assault during their time in the military are more likely to experience homeless in their life than their peers.

Using data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the study looked at more than 600,000 veterans who have left the military since September 11th 2001. Researchers found victims of what’s called “military sexual trauma” – or MST – are much more than twice as likely to become homeless.

And controlling for all other factors, they found male victims are slightly more likely to become homeless than female victims.

Lead researcher Emily Brignone, a PhD candidate at Utah State University, said men may have fewer coping mechanisms for dealing with sexual assault.

"The theory is that men may face greater stigma and issues relating to their self concept due to conceptions of masculinity and sexuality" she said.

She said men both seldom report assaults and seek mental health care at lower rates than female victims of sexual assault.

Brignone found that about 25 percent of women in the V.A.’s health care system during the study period reported having been sexually assaulted while in the military, compared to 1 percent of men.

Milo Peinemann, housing director at the non-profit New Directions, which works with homeless veterans, said he's found military sexual trauma common among those he encounters on the streets.

"We do see military sexual trauma with men and with women," he said. "In absolute numbers there’s a lot more men."

According to the JAMA report, 11.8 percent of men who reported military sexual trauma had experienced homelessness over the 5-year period of the study. For women, that number was slightly less at 8.9 percent.