The Ugly Face of Veteran Poverty in the United States

Veteran poverty should be unimaginable, but sadly, it is an unpleasant fact today for some veterans. Every veteran understands the concept of sacrifice. Sacrificing their youth in the service of their country, sacrificing their freedoms to ensure their nation remains free and, for some, the sacrifice of health or life responding to conflicts that they may not personally support.

As a society, however, we have to understand that sacrificing our veterans once they have returned home is untenable.

The ugly situation with the Veterans Administration Hospitals is the most visible failing of our government and our society’s debt to our veterans, but it is not the only situation. Veteran homelessness, veteran unemployment and veteran poverty are completely unacceptable to a society that glorifies the sacrifices these young men and women make on a daily basis.

Veteran Poverty

By the numbers

Although veterans have a lower poverty rate than other Americans, 6.9 percent vs 14.4 percent in 2012, the simple fact that almost 1.5 million veterans live in poverty in the United States is reprehensible. The veteran poverty rate for vets between 18 and 34 years old is higher than all other age groups. This group, of course, means that the veterans of the Gulf War and Afghanistan have higher poverty rates than other veterans.

Veterans are also using food stamps in larger numbers than ever before. Although the rate is still lower than for non-veterans, it is rising at a much faster pace. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has seen an unprecedented rise in usage over the last six years, and veterans have been applying to the program to make ends meet. Almost a million households with veterans living in them receive SNAP.

The reality of veteran poverty

It isn’t possible to explain why one veteran lives in poverty while another one does not. Just like society-at-large the reasons depend on the specific situation, but many veterans either don’t understand that there is assistance for them or, for one reason or another, do not seek out such assistance.

Veteran poverty is quantifiable, but the reasons behind it are not. Disabilities account for some, emotional and psychological problems account for others but for the vast majority veteran poverty is there for the same reason that poverty exists in society. A one-size-fits-all program cannot solve it, the United States government has been waging a war on poverty since the 1960s and there is no end in sight.

Taking it to the streets

Our government has been unwilling to resolve the issues that have been plaguing the Veterans Administration. Scandal after scandal has been trumpeted across the media, yet nothing happens. No one is held accountable and the numbers continue to rise. The government is unable to separate careerism from professionalism and our veterans suffer.

The programs to assist veteran poverty, although not as visible as healthcare, suffers from the same problems. Accountability has been sacrificed for the promise of permanent employment within the government bureaucracy and the sanctimonious pandering of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

As a nation, we can do better than this. It is not enough to expect the government to take care of our veterans with their health problems or with veteran poverty programs. The government has failed to live up to their responsibilities. We must not fail as a society.


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Sources:

Veterans Administration, Veteran Poverty Trends, May 2015 (https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/Veteran_Poverty_Trends.pdf)

Common Dreams, Millions of Soldiers and Veterans in Trouble, July 2014 (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/07/07/millions-soldiers-and-veterans-trouble)

The White House, The War on Poverty 50 Years Later: A Progress Report, January 2014 (https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/50th_anniversary_cea_report_-_final_post_embargo.pdf) EDIT: November 2019 this link is not longer valid.

Washington Post, One year after VA scandal, the number of veterans waiting for care is up 50 percent, June 2015 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2015/06/23/one-year-after-va-scandal-the-number-of-veterans-waiting-for-care-is-up-50-percent/)

New York Times, Few People Lost Jobs With V.A. in Scandal, April 2015 (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/us/few-people-lost-jobs-with-va-in-scandal.html?_r=0)

Fox News, New VA scandals call into question agency’s ability to clean house, April 2015 (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/04/18/new-va-scandals-call-into-question-agency-ability-to-clean-house/)

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