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Social Service Barriers Among Homeless Veterans

The idea of military services is usually accepted by American society as a privilege and a voluntary responsibility to serve the country. However, not much attention is paid to the things people lose after they return from wars or other activities. Today, veteran homelessness is a burning topic for discussion due to the existing barriers and poorly organized services. In this exploratory research, focus group interviews with veterans will be conducted to investigate the impact of ineffective social services on homeless veterans. Housing affordability, health problems, family issues, and addictions challenge veterans, and this study aims at identifying social service barriers that contribute to veteran homelessness.

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Background and Significance

In the United States, the problem of homeless veterans continues to grow, causing several discussions, misunderstandings, and concerns. The US government aims at developing special programs and policies to support people who have returned from wars, but the main social and economic challenges remain unsolved (Mabhala et al., 2017). Both male and female veterans have to deal with housing instability risks and health-related problems (Dichter et al., 2017). Therefore, it is not enough to make the government the only responsible body in this situation. The role of nurses and the representatives of special organizations like the Veterans Health Administration cannot be ignored (Dichter et al., 2017; Webber et al., 2017). Social services must be thoroughly investigated and analyzed to clarify what can be done to assist veterans in their intention to stabilize their “after military service” life.

Nowadays, many researchers focus on understanding the causes and problems associated with homelessness among veterans. According to Webber et al. (2017), the existing healthcare system compromises many homeless individuals because of the necessity to choose between their basic needs like free shelters or food and their health needs. Social service barriers exist on a variety of grounds, including women’s dependence on abusive partners or the lack of available housing opportunities (Dichter et al., 2017). As a result of shortages in understanding and support, many veterans connect their homelessness with poor or absent employment, educational attainment, and other conditions that decrease the quality of life (Mabhala et al., 2017). Taking into consideration these findings, the rationale for this study is to indicate what homeless veterans think about social service barriers and how they believe the situation could be changed with time.

Specific Aims

The goal of this study is to gather information about the conditions under which homeless veterans have to live and define the main problems the chosen group of people faces regularly. The main research question is as follows, “What social service barriers do homeless veterans experience?”. This research will be conducted to gain a better understanding of the connection between veteran homelessness outcomes and social services offered in the United States. The hypothesis is that there is a relation between ineffective social services and veteran homelessness. The outcomes are dependent variables, including health problems, behavioral changes (alcoholism or drug abuse), and social issues (family or employment). Social service barriers are independent variables like insensitive service providers who demonstrate a lack of respect, negative attitudes, and age discrimination, or poor social services systems (delivery system, waiting, and discouraging). All these variables are of a nominal level of measurement, meaning that they deal with labels and names (non-numeric concepts).

Research Method, Design and Procedures

Research Design

The main idea of this study is to explore the research question but not to develop a final solution to the existing problem. At this moment, there are many opinions and attitudes toward veteran homelessness and its outcomes in the social context. Therefore, the decision to conduct exploratory qualitative research is made. Within the frames of this approach, it is possible to gather credible evidence, discover new problems of homeless veterans, and identify the required background for further studies. Exploratory research is also known as hypothesis-generating research, the purpose of which is to demonstrate the relationship between the chosen variables. A focus group is the type of exploratory study in terms of which data has to be collected from a group of people with common characteristics (veterans who are homeless). The main threats to the validity of the study are biased generated information and a small number of samples. Exploratory researchers generate qualitative information and interpret the material from their subjective points of view. There is a threat of biases in the analysis of the results. Focus groups do not require many participants, and some scientists define this approach ineffective.

Procedure

In exploratory research, there are several important steps to be taken. First, it is necessary to identify a problem and create a hypothesis under which research questions and goals are developed. Second, the choice of settings and participants should be made. In the United States, there are many places where veterans ask for help, food, or shelter. The inclusion criteria for participants are military experience, age between 25 and 65, English-speaking, and homelessness. Face-to-face communication will be organized in four focus groups (three male groups and one female group) in the form of an interview with ten open-ended questions. All interviews have to be recorded so the information could be used for further analysis. It is planned to develop content analysis (data coding and the creation of meaningful categories). Although the idea of exploratory research does not presuppose preconceived notions, it is possible to use the results of the literature review and identify the main characteristics of veteran homelessness. The results of content analysis are hard to predict because many things depend on the answers of veterans, their willingness to share personal information, and the analysis of available social services.

Participants

Cooperation with participants is one of the main tasks an explorative researcher has to perform. Veterans are asked to participate in focus group interviews and answer several questions. They are informed that all these procedures will be recorded. If a participant has additional questions, it is a responsibility of a researcher to give clear explanations and provide support. As soon as a list of questions is formulated and approved by the committee, a researcher should select participants who meet the inclusion criteria. It is expected to finish focus group interviews within a week or two. There will be four focus groups, with ten veterans in each. Qualitative data will be collected from participants for further analysis. The answers to open-ended questions will vary, depending on their experiences, social services, and other personal factors that determine the quality of life. The researcher should not demonstrate any emotions either to support or to oppose the government but establish trustful relationships with participants. Audio data records have to be transcribed for content analysis, and it is expected to store this information during the next several years, following the principles of confidentiality or anonymity.

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Instruments for Research with Human Subjects

Strengths and Weaknesses

To gather qualitative information from focus groups, an interview is a common research instrument for consideration. In this study, face-to-face group interviewing helps gather the opinions of the participants and generate insightful information. There has to be a moderator in a focus group to stimulate discussions and encourage veterans, and this function is usually performed by a researcher. The strength of this instrument is the absence of right or wrong answers, and participants are able to share their personal thoughts and attitudes. There are no specific measurements and scores to be applied to this type of research, and veterans respond to questions in their own ways, underlying the main problems, barriers, and concerns. Some weaknesses exist in terms of the reliability of focus groups because it is impossible to predict if the representatives of different groups give similar answers for analysis. The validity of this instrument is its strength as a moderator may choose questions and guide participants to obtain the necessary information.

Relation to the Research Question

This study aims at exploring social service barriers that determine the quality of veteran life. Focus group interviews contain a number of questions with the help of which the researcher identifies veterans’ problems and concerns. It is possible to pose direct questions like “What, in your opinion, are the main social barriers for your success?” or indirect questions like “How do you define your status after military service?”. Direct questions will help gather information for the analysis of the chosen variables. The content of the participants’ answers has to be thoroughly studied to identify the main categories of social service barriers. Indirect questions aim at motivating and supporting veterans in their communication with the researcher. The answers to these questions show what veterans know about current programs and social services, how they use their opportunities, and what situations make them uncomfortable.

Instrument Background

Interview questions will be developed by a researcher from scratch, so no background information about previous scales or examples is necessary. The only requirement is to get approval from an ethics committee before the study. There will be ten open-ended questions that serve as a plan of communication in a focus group. However, the researcher should also remember that group discussions are effective for observations, and it is possible to make notes about behaviors, changes, and personal attitudes toward the situation. It is also possible to think about additional questions in order to motivate or support the participants if they feel difficulties in developing talks within a limited setting.

Human Subject Source and Selection Criteria

Demographics of Participants

In this study, a convenience sample will be used to choose veterans. Nowadays, it is possible to find the location of shelters online and reach the necessary place. Therefore, the first step will be the analysis of local shelters where veterans could be. The next step is the choice of participants as per the established criteria. It is expected to cooperate with male and female veterans, aged from 25 to 65 years. They have to speak English well and demonstrate their willingness to participate in the study when the researcher informs about the details of their contribution.

Selection Criteria

As soon as the researcher reaches the shelter or another place where veterans are, it is necessary to be introduced and explain true intentions. It is impossible to predict the reaction of every veteran on the preposition to participate in the study. Several simple rules should be followed, including no coercion, no undue influence, and no threats. Sometimes, veterans sit on the streets and ask for help. Although it may be dangerous for the researcher to contact all homeless people, short-term observations will help to get an idea of a person. Still, much attention should be paid to the population of local shelters.

Sampling Technique

Regarding the fact that this study is based on a convenience sample, non-probability sampling is considered. This technique is characterized by the presence of a chance of being selected and the impossibility to predict the total number of participants, their behaviors, and answers. Therefore, the only stable feature is the identification of common characteristics of participants and their interests in regard to the offered topic.

Inclusion/Exclusion

To be included in the study, the participants should meet the following criteria:

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  • Being a veteran (to share their experience);
  • Being homeless for more than a month (to understand the needs of the population);
  • Being between 25-65 years (to have employment and growth potential);
  • Speaking English (to avoid language barriers).

Exclusion is possible if people:

  • Are younger or older the set age limit;
  • Have a home but do not live there by any reason;
  • Have no military experience.

Informed Consent

Procedure

Informed consent may be obtained in the verbal or written form, but it is preferable for researchers to have the written one. This process involves the exchange of information about the study and the establishment of professional relationships between the researcher and subjects (in this case, they are participants, veterans). First, the study has to be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) or a local ethical committee. Second, the consent document should contain a guide of the study, the description of the researcher’s and participants’ responsibilities, approximate time frames, and the nature of expected findings in regard to the established goals. Finally, all the participants should sign the agreement voluntarily and get guarantees that they could quit the study any time they want, without additionally imposed explanations.

Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity in qualitative research with homeless veterans is a complex subject, with a number of risks. Therefore, it is recommended to follow a guide identified and approved in informed consent. In addition, human rights and participants’ dignity have to be respected. The researcher is obliged to improve awareness of cultural differences and values shared by veterans and consider a multicultural context during the interviews. Cultural beliefs, religion, and personal fears should be questioned, and the researcher’s competency turns out to be a critical component in cooperation with veterans and finding the answer to the main research problem.

Confidentiality or Anonymity

An understanding of the concepts of confidentiality and anonymity plays a crucial role in conducting research with human subjects. In the study where the researcher is aware of the participant’s identity and aims at protecting this information from others, the principle of confidentiality works. When the researcher does not know the participant’s identity and relies on people’s answers only, the principle of anonymity is applied. In this study, the confidentiality approach will be chosen, with a sign consent agreement as to the background of these interpersonal relationships. To maintain confidentiality during focus group interviews is a key task of the researcher. Data will be collected directly from participants and recorded, and the use of passwords to protect files and encryption in sent information can be effective.

The researcher should also inform all the participants about the nature of cooperation and the necessity to respect each other’s privacy and not to repeat information that has been said within the focus group. During the project, all the material will be stored on the researcher’s personal computer, and all the files have to be protected by a safe password, so that no one could reach data. In the agreement between the researcher and a participant, attention is paid to the individuals who could receive personal data. In this study, the researcher is the only person who works directly with veterans and transcribes information. Outside help is possible only after all the names and personal information is removed from the final document. Informed consent also contains the period during which data has to be stored (two years after research is complete).

Research Benefits

Veteran homelessness is a burning problem for the US population that is usually associated with such social service barriers as poverty, unemployment, and abuse. However, despite the intention to protect veterans and provide them with the best services, the government is not able to recognize all concerns. Although there are no direct benefits to participants, this study is effective in terms of the identification of current problems among homeless veterans. Direct communication with participants who experience barriers in social services and awareness of the effectiveness of the policies that have already been implemented are the benefits. Participants get a chance to share their stories about how the country treats its people. Veterans are able to analyze their challenges within small groups, with people who have similar experiences. Incentives for participation could be the desire to improve living conditions’ for veterans and change the programs that allow homelessness to happen. Not many individuals are ready to listen to homeless people on streets, and veterans are usually proud to say about their weaknesses aloud. Therefore, this study is an opportunity to reveal the truth about the quality of American life.

Risks

Despite the intention to provide the participants with the best conditions and terms, certain risks in human subject research cannot be neglected. In this study, there is a threat of emotional harm due to the choice of a sensitive topic for veterans. Homelessness is a challenge even for the strongest and experienced veterans, and the researcher should be prepared to manage emotional changes and behaviors among participants. The necessity of communicating in a public setting and observations may confuse one participant and cause no inconvenience in another participant. Support and trust are the approaches for the researcher to minimize veterans’ harm. Informational risk is another aspect for consideration because the researcher is not able to provide 100% guarantees of confidentiality maintenance. In focus groups, there are several people with similar problems and living conditions, but their attitudes to these challenges may vary, and accidental disclosure is always a threat. Therefore, emotional discomfort has to be predicted to its possible extent and reduced by demonstrating respect and dignity. A professional committee checks focus group interviews to avoid ambiguous situations and help the researcher follow a safe plan of cooperation with participants.

References

  1. Dichter, M., Wagner, C., Borrero, S., Broyles, L., Montgomery, A.E. (2017). Intimate partner violence, unhealthy alcohol use, and housing instability among women Veterans in the Veterans Health Administration. Psychological Services, 14(2), 246-249. Web.
  2. Mabhala M. A., Yohannes A., Griffith M. (2017). Social conditions of becoming homelessness: Qualitative analysis of life stories of homeless peoples. International Journal of Equity in Health, 16(1). Web.
  3. Weber J., Lee, R. C., & Martsolf, D. (2017). Understanding the health of veterans who are homeless: A review of the literature. Public Health Nursing, 34(5), 505–511. Web.

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