50,000 Homeless Veterans Nationwide

ABC News' Bob Woodruff travels the country examining new efforts end homelessness among US veterans.
8:44 | 01/04/15

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Transcript for 50,000 Homeless Veterans Nationwide
Now we turn to the home front. Veterans returning from the front lines are facing a sad and stunning statistic. By 1 estimate nearly 50,000 veterans will experience homelessness each year. But there are new efforts to help vets who have fallen through the cracks, and just this week a sign of progress. Here's ABC's bob woodruff. This is me. Reporter: Last month in downtown New Orleans, U.S. Army vet Darren dopia has finally found a home. He has been homeless for over ten years living in a tent in the woods and on the streets. I got windows. Look at the view. Oh, my goodness, for real, this is all for me? Reporter: But this past holiday he and 25 other homeless vets got addresses of their own thanks to the work of a nonprofit, unity. These are permanent apartments where each tenant has a lease, and they can live here for the rest of their lives. Reporter: This week new Orleans will announce that it has successfully met its goal and housed all 193 of its homeless veterans. You are a bunch of angels is what you are. Oh. Reporter: One of the architects behind the New Orleans success is Roseanne Hagerty who's been working on homelessness for 30 years and she believes that veterans' homelessness can be fixed nationwide. We talked to her in New York. New York still has a problem with veterans that are homeless? Yeah, about 900 veterans are homeless in New York. Really, still? We know their names and we're on a course to get that solved. It's basically smart problem solving. If you're in business, you would figure out who is the customer, what do we know about them? It's bringing that kind of discipline to solving a complex social problem. Reporter: There have been big promises before. President Obama and I are personally committed to ending homelessness among veterans. Reporter: And missed deadlines but also success stories. How are you doing? Phoen Phoenix. Reporter: Phoenix announced it had successfully ended chronic homelessness among vets. We made a concerted effort the last couple of years to rapidly rehouse as many veterans as possible. Reporter: So why are veterans at risk for homelessness? Experts point to a variety of factors like strained relationships with friends and family and the difficulty vets can have landing jobs after coming home. I was homeless because I never fit in nowhere and I just kept moving. That awareness of PTSD, of the hidden injuries of war and how that can play out in people's loss of family and support, that I think sensitized the country. Reporter: Los Angeles is home to some of the highest Numbers of homeless veterans including many Vietnam vets, a problem I saw firsthand in the city's notorious skid row. Still, nationally the number of homeless veterans has dropped by about 33% in the last four years, largely because the V.A. Is working closely with local nonprofit organizations. But there's still work to be done for those who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the last few years I have found them outside across the country living in their cars. I use this side to sleep on. Reporter: They're sleeping on the benches. Pretty much like that. Reporter: And the worst might still be to come for those more recent vets. Homelessness among Vietnam veterans did not emerge as a major issue until seven years after the war ended. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans association takes calls from desperate veterans every week. I was calling to talk to somebody -- Reporter: And passes on the information to the V.A. Now that we're winding down they're getting out and coming home and many of them are doing well. But some of them are struggling and we've got to be there for them and have their back when they're at that tough spot. Reporter: A critical effort to make sure everyone who put their lives on the line for all of us have a home to come back to. Oh. And bob is here with us now along with Phil Klay, a marine Corps veteran, author of the remarkable book "Redeployment." Welcome to you both. Bob, I want to start with you. You mentioned it could be seven years out but certainly since the war began we're already there. Yeah, you know, that's true. It's seven years, but when those that come back from the last deployment, let's make sure they get the kind of attention and help they do because that's the problem. It's true the Numbers have gone down in the last four years. What you see for the first time for all veterans, homelessness under 50%, 50,000 for the first time. But the big thing is to not to have the same thing happen with Iraq and Afghanistan vets as it did with Vietnam, which means let's do it otherwise we'll see this economy just slaughtered again in the future if we don't do it now and have them keep living on the streets. Phil, you have written a lot about this. Your book is remarkable. It is a piece of fiction but very real. But you've also wrote -- written a very powerful op-ed in "The Wall Street journal" that's called "Treat us with respect, not pity," so taking that into account how do help these veterans and approach this? I think there's always a balance between acknowledging and thinking about the very real problems that veterans often face, particularly in that transition period and realizing that when you're talking about the veteran population you're often talking about people with a lot of potential. If you look back at history, when we invest in veteran, it's good for us as a country. You are talking about people who often signed up to do a very hard, difficult job out of a sense of idealism and so, you know, and that continues once they, you know, go back into the civilian sphere but during that transitional period people can face a lot of difficulties which is why I think it's important to have the networks in place to support them through that. But you don't want everyone to look at the military as all heroes or certainly all victims and I hear the same thing, but, bob this is particularly PTSD and brain injury are a very real problem. You through your wonderful foundation with your wife, the bob woodruff foundation have helped so many of the wounded. I will disclose I'm on the board of that, as well. Yes, you are. But how have you approached that taking into consideration what Phil said? Absolutely. They need dignity and we also need to tell people that it's more like 25% have been affected by these kinds of issues when they come back. You know, maybe 75% of them are actually very good and we know that companies that have hired them have been incredibly impressed with how well the veterans do when they come back because they got discipline. They got world experience. All of this and they're generally older when they go to their first job in a company so they've been really in some ways successful once they get to those companies so that's exactly it. Don't make it posttraumatic stress disorder. Take out the disorder and treat them that way and they're good. Phil, what really worries me going forward is, you know, we just talked to general Campbell and still have 10,500 people there but I don't think people are thinking about that at all. So what worries me is that it's going to be further in the background of the civilian population and there's got to be some way to bridge that gap. The military too. The military tends to say, nobody understands us. We'll stay over here. You guys over there. Right, absolutely and, you know, that disconnect was already very present when I came back from Iraq in 2008. All right. And it only, you know, it only continues to widen. I think we don't know what to make of Iraq and Afghanistan particularly, you know, the situation continues overseas and so we often don't know what to make of our veterans or how to feel about them and I think, you know, for me oftentimes it's not so much whether someone is -- has a particular political agenda or policy proposal that I agree with but whether I think that somebody is seriously engaged with the issue. What it means to be a veteran. What that experience might be like instead of blanketing them into this kind of stereotype of you're either a hero or you're some kind of victim who is possibly dangerous. Very quickly, Phil, what would you want people to say to you as a veteran or they should say to other people? I just want to have a conversation, right. There's no one thing. It's more about where what you're saying is coming from than any one catchphrase. Okay, thanks so much to both of you and thank you for all your work, bob, on this issue. Thanks. Thank you. And we end with some good news. The Pentagon did not release any names of service members killed this week in Afghanistan or Iraq. That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World news tonight" and we'll see you back here next week. Have a great day.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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