Why Veteran Poverty in the US?


Who would believe that after fighting in popular and not so popular wars, that a US veteran would return home impoverished?

Indeed, conventional wisdom, wants us to  believe that people join the military service, not necessarily because they want to serve their country, but because they are poor to begin with and/or are disproportionately attracted because of their disadvantaged backgrounds. Consequently, the popular belief holds that many of the men and women who join the military are members of minority groups. Furthermore, some believe that the war in Iraq forced the military to lower its standards.

But if you go to the military.com website, you will find that those who join the military are way above average. At the military.gov site, they not only invite you to join any of the five services arms of the military, they also provide you with the eligibility rules, which of course, differ for enlisting and for officer programs. They recommend that you should meet the minimum requirements before visiting your local recruiter. The enlisting requirements include a high school degree and not just a GED. The enlisted members of the military are charged with the every-day hands-on work that the military requires. The Officer route is a bit more demanding because they are really the military managers, and invariably are very competitive, if only because we usually need more workers than managers in any organization.  So, at a minimum, a college degree is required for the officer rank and many officers know that and apply with a Master’s or higher degrees.

If you need more convincing you can read some of the studies that show that it is not only the poor or the disadvantaged who join the US military. Indeed, in 2008, a Heritage Foundation report provided convincing data and study that demystified this belief and conventional wisdom. The report had compared military volunteers to the civilian population on the following four demographic characteristics: “household income, education level, racial and ethnic background, and regional origin.” The report indicated that “both active-duty enlisted troops and officers come disproportionately from high income neighborhoods.” For the Heritage Foundation report, please read more here .

Now that we know who serves in the active-duty ranks of the U.S. all-volunteer military, and that they are not simply the poor or the disadvantaged, why then is there veteran poverty in the US army? How do some young individuals, who come from educational backgrounds, who decide to serve in the military, end up impoverished?

Many of the veterans who are returning home need something to transition to. Those returning to the US will need help transitioning to civil life. They will also need support from safety net programs or job training to ease the transition.  But because many of these programs are support based (funded by policy) it is in the hands of Congress to assure that poverty does not affect our vets. Congress must assure that the safety net that provides them with critical food, heat (especially during this treacherous winter) and health assistance are not cut; that our returning vets can find good and well-paying jobs, and that the vets are not disproportionately homeless!

This is why we need to pay attention to Congress and hold them accountable for what diminishes the value of those who help us maintain our freedom. We should through the “Acts” of Congress and in unison with the President say unequivocally to our vets, “Thank You and Welcome Home.” Rather than “Thank You and you have no home”.  We as a society must demand more for our veterans!

For more, on Veteran Poverty by the Numbers see



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