Growing Veteran Population Strains Services; By Olin Ericksen Staff Writer April 3 -- The need to house and provide services for homeless veterans comes at a time when their ranks are steadily growing as they return home from ongoing conflicts abroad, according to Veteran Administration officials who attended a forum in West Los Angeles Monday. There are indications that many veterans with stress disorders are also ending up on the streets of Los Angeles County and being under served by a dedicated but overwhelmed staff, according to Charles Dorman, director of the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. Of the 4,150 veterans treated in greater Los Angeles since the beginning of the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts, nearly 900 patients have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the VA, Dorman noted. Congressman Bob Filner addresses crowd. (Photo by Olin Ericksen) Of those 900 patients, 11 percent, or 200 veterans with PTSD, have used homeless/community care programs at the facilities, he said. Another symptom of the growing problem is that resources are stretched thin among the hospital, with only 56 of the 900 patients "cared for in Polytrauma," according to Dorman. "One of the many challenges that impact our system of health care is the large homeless population we care for," said Dorman. "If one were to look at the top ten discharge diagnosis and top ten reasons for outpatient care, you would see that almost half of them are for clinical care issues related to this (homeless veteran) population." Those clinical care issues include not only mental illness associated with trauma, but a host of substance abuse issues, he said. Other services at the Veteran's facilities also suffer, Dorman acknowledged in a candid assessment of the VA's overall situation. While some county statistics kept by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority show that population is shrinking, local agencies and the VA are seeing an increase veterans seeking assistance, said New Directions Executive Director Toni Reinis. "We now have another long war and we are beginning to see a totally new population of young veterans attempting to find a way to deal with the tragic effects of war," she said. Further, she said, these "20 something" men and women are suffering higher levels of PTSD associated with roadside bombs killing and maiming soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are also ending up on the street earlier, according to Reinis. "After Vietnam, it took nine to12 years for veterans' circumstances to deteriorate to the point of homelessness," she said. "Today, the high incidence of PTSD and traumatic brain injury will contribute to increased homelessness unless dramatic measures are taken to mitigate this trend." Other factors such as repeated deployment and the duration of the conflict could exacerbate the situation. Currently no timetable has been set to pull American troops out from either Iraq or Afghanistan. Congressman Bob Filner (D-San Diego), Chairman of the U.S . House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he intends to use his position to focus on giving more veterans better service at their VA facilities nationwide. "People are angry here and all over the nation about the lack of commitment for the VA," Filner said. "I will tell you that the new Congress is committed to changing that situation to make it responsive." The first step came in the form of nearly $350 billion in additional monies appropriated for the entire VA system, according to Filner. "You can't do it overnight,” he said. “We've had some neglect, we have had no oversight for the past six years, and so we've got to get some results quick so people understand which direction we are trying to go in."