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Housing linked to lower health care costs

Richard E. Nelson
Richard E. Nelson, lead author of the study (photo by Charlie Ehlert)

Scientists and social workers have long known that homeless Veterans have more adverse health conditions, visit the hospital more, and have longer, more expensive stays. But what they didn’t know was that improving a Veteran’s housing also improves their health.

Veterans who received financial aid for housing spent less time in the hospital. They also spent less money on medical care – slashing costs by nearly $3,000 over two years, a new Department of Veterans Affairs study says.

“Getting Veterans experiencing homelessness into stable housing is desirable for a whole host of social, health, economic, and moral reasons,” said Richard E. Nelson, the study’s lead author and a research health scientist at Salt Lake City VA. “In this case, the overarching finding of our research is that providing veterans with temporary financial assistance helps them get into stable housing and reduces health care costs—particularly inpatient health care costs. This should be seen as a ‘win-win’ for the average person or taxpayer.”

The study covered 40,000 Veterans across 49 states over two years. While the findings could the nation’s estimated 40,000 homeless Veterans, there’s no reason they couldn’t also help homeless Americans who aren’t veterans, Nelson said.

“Historically, housing and health care have been considered separate things,” Nelson says. “By showing that they are linked––that improving somebody’s housing situation might also improve their health status––this finding could have a big impact on how we approach these challenges among veterans and other citizens in the future.”

Next, researchers plan to examine if other types of financial aid can improve Veteran health.

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