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Paying bills and job hunting in this economy are hard for anyone. Wounded veterans, often facing ongoing physical and mental health issues, have it even worse.
More wounded vets than before reported not having enough cash to make ends meet, a recent survey found. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed — or 6 in 10 vets — said they didn't have enough money to pay bills at least once in the past 12 months, a jump from 42% the previous year, according to the Annual Warrior Survey released this year by the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit veterans service organization.
"We're getting more feedback from 'warriors' that they're having a harder and harder time meeting their financial obligations on a regular basis," says Tom Kastner, vice president of financial wellness at the Wounded Warrior Project.
Wounded vets are feeling the pinch of inflation like everyone else. The cost of everyday goods like food was the main reported cause of financial strain. That's on top of a struggle with food insecurity. Nearly 2 in 5 wounded veterans — or 38.7% — met the threshold for being food insecure, defined as not having enough food for an active, healthy life. That figure is almost four times higher than the 10.2% of the U.S. general population, the survey found.
The Wounded Warrior Project is designed to support wounded veterans, called “warriors” by the nonprofit, through their transitions to civilian life with services in mental health, physical health, peer connection, career counseling and financial wellness, at no charge. The annual survey represents the views of more than 165,000 warriors and is the largest survey of post-9/11 wounded veterans.
Here are some other key findings from the February report.
Debt and cash flow are a new challenge
Wounded veterans face more financial strain overall than before, the study found. Aside from the cost of goods, other reasons given for financial stress included:
Working but not making enough money (26.8%).
Family obligations (26.6%).
Out of work (17.5%).
Medical bills (6.1%).
Nine in 10 respondents (92.8%) also reported carrying debt other than mortgage debt, such as credit card debt, personal loans or auto loans. More than half (56.8%) reported at least $20,000 in nonmortgage debt. Those trends are in line with past surveys, but Kastner notes that the combination of debt and lack of cash is a challenge.
"Debt is not new, but now we're getting, 'I have debt, but I also can't pay my bills like I used to,'" he says. More than 43% of warriors said they had little to no confidence they could cover a $1,000 emergency expense, a measure of financial health.
A bright spot: lower unemployment
There was some good news when it came to unemployment. The share of unemployed warriors dropped to 6.8% in 2022, compared with more than 13% the previous year. But warriors still have a higher unemployment rate than the general population (3.7%) and all veterans (2.4%).
Unemployed wounded veterans say ongoing mental health or psychological distress are their biggest barriers to finding jobs, followed by difficulty translating military skills to the civilian workforce and lack of education.
The Wounded Warrior Project helps train warriors to find jobs as well as file and receive veteran and disability benefits, and it provides emergency financial assistance as well as long-term financial education, Kastner says.
Overall, the survey findings underscore the urgency of providing more assistance and education to address the financial challenges of wounded veterans.
"We have to pay better attention to the financial readiness of our warriors," Kastner says.