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Veterans Day is a good occasion to focus our attention on those who have served their country and now need our help in return. I recently attended the Veterans Housing Convening sponsored by the National Housing Conference, where I was fortunate enough to learn more about the problems facing vulnerable veterans.

The United States owes much to our veterans for the sacrifices they have made to preserve our freedoms and way of life. Because of this debt of gratitude, the country should support our veterans both by ensuring that they receive access to all of the financial and educational benefits they earned during their service, and by offering a helping hand to veterans if they fall upon difficult times

In many ways the discipline and job skills learned through military service have benefited veterans greatly upon their return to civilian life. For example, the median income for male veterans, $36,285, is approximately $3,000 more than the median income for male non-veterans. And for female veterans, the median income, $28,982, is about $7,000 more than that for female non-veterans. However, a small but substantial group of veterans, 1.4 million in total, live in poverty. Our nation needs to find better ways to support them.

Housing is an area where veterans often are particularly vulnerable. Approximately 4 million veterans live in unaffordable housing, and it tends to be disabled veterans who are the most burdened by their housing costs. This is a significant problem given that 14 percent of all veterans have a service-related disability. A disability can make it much more difficult to find housing that meets the veteran’s needs, and this type of housing often comes with a substantial price tag. Additionally, many veterans are also at risk of homelessness. Unfortunately, veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population: Veterans represent 9.5 percent of the adult population nationwide, but they constitute 16 percent of homeless adults.

While younger veterans are often the focus of veteran initiatives, older veterans also face many problems associated with poverty. These older veterans must also contend with the health problems and physical limitations associated with aging. So it’s important that programs targeting struggling veterans not just focus on those who have recently completed their service. All veterans who are vulnerable economically or physically, regardless of their age, deserve our help.

By offering support to all struggling veterans of every age, we can show our gratitude for the service they provided our country and celebrate their patriotism and sacrifice — something that is needed not just on Veterans Day but every day.

For more information about the issues veterans face, see the National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy’s Facts about Veterans and Housing.

This post was featured on the AARP Foundation web site.

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