Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.”

Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about veterans and their financial status?

A.  Military veterans are typically more successful than their civilian peers
B.   Homelessness among veterans has radically increased over the last decade
C. Veterans don’t experience poverty at higher rates than civilians

Let’s take these statements one at a time:

A. TRUTH!

The great news is that, in part due to their need to be competitive in the labor market, the payrates and benefits associated with the All-Volunteer Force have helped to steady the financial situation of veterans and military connected families. After extensive research, the Military Family Advisory Network reports that service members were less likely than US adults overall to be at risk of material hardship. And according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of US Census Bureau data, the median annual income for veteran households was around $88, 700 dollars. This was compared to about $76,100 for non-veteran households, representing an over $12,000 difference.

B. LIE!

Around half of Americans who see a homeless man panhandling on a street corner or even just a picture of the same believe that he is a military veteran—and yet 90 percent of the time they are wrong in thinking so. Homelessness among veterans has in fact been radically reduced over the last decade. According to HUD, there were 35,574 homeless veterans in 2023—and over 31% of those homeless veterans live in California alone.

C. Truth!

Over the past forty years, US veterans and their families have consistently achieved higher standards of living than non-veterans. In 2022, the Census Bureau estimated that less than 10% (7.5 percent, around 1.2 million) of all veterans have income below the poverty level. Additionally, the veteran population has a lower unemployment rate than non-veterans (2.8 versus 3.6 percent). Researchers credit the “military capital effect” (the benefits of military service that may include health-promoting activities via physical training; the establishment of social networks that broaden ties to the community and labor market opportunities; development of social and translatable occupational/technical skills; and access to a broad range of DoD and VA benefits, including education, health care, and home-loan guaranty benefits) for these positive financial outcomes for veterans.

Bottom Line: 

Military veterans and those in active military service today suffer from widespread misconceptions and outright myths about both who they are and what their true challenges are. The reality is that veterans benefit both economically and financially over their life course from their military service and the continuing federal and state veteran-specific benefits their service gives them access to. Of course, these benefits do not render veterans immune from either financial hardship or financial stress. But upon closer examination of the landscape of those veterans and their families who are experiencing financial hardship, an unexpected story emerges: Where there may be financial stress among veterans it’s among especially younger (Post-9/11) veterans, and it’s rather connected with a lack of a financial skillset, and with low financial literacy. It turns out, then, that one of the greatest aids to preventing them from falling into a deleterious pathway of financial hardship is to provide active duty members, veterans, and their families with a greater breadth and depth of financial literacy tools.