NAPLES, Italy — The number of homeless female veterans has more than doubled, and their numbers are likely to increase as servicemembers return from Iraq and Afghanistan if the Deparment of Veterans Affairs does not address the specific needs of women veterans, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

Women veterans identifying themselves as homeless rose from 1,380 in fiscal 2006 to 3,328 in fiscal 2010, according to the report, released this week.

The VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development do not collect data specific to homeless women veterans, but officials told GAO investigators that they doing so “would incur minimal burden and cost.”

The women veteran population has grown from 4 percent of all veterans in 1990 to 8 percent, an estimated 1.8 million, the report states.

More focus is required on the specific needs of women veterans, according to the report.

“While VA is taking steps — such as launching an outreach campaign — to end homelessness among all veterans, it does not have sufficient data about the population and needs of women veterans to plan effectively for increases in their numbers as servicemembers return from Iraq and Afghanistan,” the report states. “Without improved services, women — including those with children and those who have experience military sexual trauma — remain at risk of homelessness and experiencing further abuse.”

Of the homeless women veterans who have been in touch with the VA, investigators found some commonalities. Nearly two-thirds are between 40 and 59 years old, and more than one-third have disabilities. Many of these women are accompanied by their minor children.

“Limited housing for women and their children puts these families at risk of remaining homeless,” the report said.

Safety was another concern cited by homeless women veterans interviewed by the investigators.

“In response to a recent report by the VA Inspector General, VA has begun to evaluate safety and security arrangements” in transitional housing programs that serve women, the report said. “However, VA does not have gender-specific safety and security standards, ... potentially putting women veterans at risk of sexual harassment or assault.”

The report also found that homeless women veterans sometimes weren’t aware of VA or HUD resources.

“I found myself sleeping out there on the streets … if it wasn’t for a couple veterans that were out there that told me about this place, I’d still be out there,” a 14-year Marine Corps veteran and mother of three who had been homeless for 13 years told GAO investigators. “I was stopped by a couple of cops. They said … there are lots of places for veterans. I asked where; they couldn’t tell me.”

Among the GAO’s recommendations, VA and HUD should collaborate on collecting data on homeless women veterans, including those with children and those with disabilities, improve transitional housing options for women veterans and their children, as well as ensure women’s safety.

Both departments generally agreed with the report’s findings, according to the GAO.

Twitter: @Stripes_GeoffZ

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