Veterans deal with unique financial and lifestyle challenges

The nation's veterans have served the country but life after the military often comes with special financial challenges made tougher by inflation.

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The nation’s veterans have served the country but life after the military often comes with special financial challenges made tougher by inflation. As Veterans Day approaches, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin  checked in with the president of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, Mike Meese.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And we should point out that you are a retired officer yourself. And so you’ve got real empathy there.

Mike Meese: Exactly served 32 years in the Army and now transitioned to helping veterans through our association.

Tom Temin: Let’s talk about for a moment the veterans population itself. I mean, there’s the model that persists. The bulk of them are World War II, and then a somewhat smaller group of Vietnam. And then everybody that came after. That is really out of date, though, isn’t it?

Mike Meese: It is a little bit. It’s interesting that the peak of the when the our nation had the most number of veterans was actually about 1977, when there were 28 million veterans in America, and that was out of a smaller population. We’ve now gone with the World War I, and World War II and many of the Korean War veterans passing away, we’re now down to about 18 million veterans. And as many of us may recall, we started the all volunteer force in 1973. Right now, it’s just about the halfway point where half of the veterans came in after the draft ended in 1973. And then half were people that came in the military, not all were drafted, but certainly were in the military in Korea, Vietnam, or some World War II, before we went to the all volunteer force.

Tom Temin: Right, so it’s skewing a little bit younger, maybe then  20 years ago.

Mike Meese: It is. So the needs of the veterans are changing, and the Veterans Administration and various organizations like ours have had to adjust to take care of the needs of younger veterans as those that have served valiantly in World War II, Korea and Vietnam are passing from our ranks.

Tom Temin: And I have to point out how persistent the phrase Veterans Administration still is, even though it’s been the Department of Veterans Affairs, I think now for 25 years. But we’ll give you that one. Let me ask you this, though, in the current times, especially on the younger end of the veterans population, is it your sense that they have more difficult economic challenges than the general population?

Mike Meese: Well, I think the whole population has challenges with inflation, and veterans, probably like everybody else does. What’s interesting, though, with a younger population, many of them have taken advantage of their veterans benefits, especially educational benefits. And so consequently, what has been very heartening to see over the last decade has been more veterans getting into the workforce. In fact, veteran unemployment fell last month down to the lowest that it’s ever been at 2.4%. So fortunately, veterans are getting jobs, which is helpful, even though sometimes their wages are not keeping up with the challenges of inflation.

Tom Temin: And the reason they’re so employable, a lot of that has to do with the training they have gotten in the military. And would you also say some of the VBA programs are helping there?

Mike Meese: I think so. Absolutely. The Veterans Benefit Administration, that’s part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, is very good with vocational rehabilitation training, and helping veterans get a leg up into jobs. And a lot of employers have programs  that encourage our veterans, to join organizations and have affinity groups and work with each other, helping to improve their workforces, when they join whatever job it happens to be.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Mike Meese, he is president of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association. And what do employers get when they hire a veteran relative to maybe someone else?

Mike Meese: They get somebody who has clearly demonstrated their experience in being disciplined, being organized, being able to get jobs done to be focused on the mission. And the other aspect that I think is particularly important in today’s workforce where diversity and inclusiveness is important is the military has been focused on diversity, inclusiveness throughout its history. Because in order to be an effective military unit, you have to be able to take advantage of everybody that’s in that unit. You’re working with people from all kinds, every state, every background, every demographic, and you don’t get to choose who your roommate is who your first sergeant is, who your commander is. You have to work with those folks. And so consequently, they bring the experience of working in a diverse workforce and making everybody in their team better as they go into whatever job they happen to have.

Tom Temin: And let’s get down to one brass tacks issue I wanted to ask you about because this comes up from time to time and the cybersecurity phishing attack situation is getting worse for all Americans. But because of their particular identity and backgrounds, veterans are often the target of very highly specialized and focused scams. What do you see going on there? And what are some of the remedies to help them avoid getting caught?

Mike Meese: No, you’re right. There are lots of scammers who do take advantage of the fact that veterans have kind of a fixed schedule of things, whether it’s getting their federal benefits, or right now there’s  good news for veterans that are on disability as they’ll get an 8.7% increase in disability checks, which starts in January. And that starts absolutely automatically. They don’t need to do anything for that. But scammers will probably call them up and knowing that this is going to happen, say hey, you have to apply this or you have to do something to be sure that you can get your information updated, and that you could get this 8.7% increase in disability payments. Everybody should know that the VA will never call and ask you for that kind of information. All of their communications is in writing, if there’s going to be any change to your benefits, or anything like that. So anybody who is trying to elicit information from anybody in general, and particularly from veterans, they are almost always somebody trying to take advantage of you. And you should never give anybody any of that information. If it is a serious person, they’ll send you a letter or you can ask them to give you a callback later, and then validate that with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to be sure that it is in fact a legitimate person.

Tom Temin: What’s your best advice this Veterans Day for the veterans and for VA?

Mike Meese: Well, for both, let me cut straight just briefly on veterans, obviously, with inflation, and we deal this with our AAFMAA members, some  have been able to figure out inflation, have the savings have the things to be able to take care of their family, if you’re in that circumstance, help other veterans, volunteer at the various community outreach, places that are helping those veterans that may have challenges. And the other part is to communicate to veterans, you know, people do get into circumstances, especially with inflation, with cars breaking down with all kinds of problems, you should never be so proud that you are not willing to take advantage of all of the organizations that are out there that are  designed to help veterans. So if you need help, it’s okay to ask for that help and get that help. And if you’re in a good situation, a great way to get back is to continue to help those community organizations and help other veterans and others that are out there. It makes all of us continue in that mission that we had while we were serving in the military.

Tom Temin: And for VA?

Mike Meese: VA again, they fortunately have worked through much of the backlog, and they’re modernizing their systems has been a great outreach. Secretary McDonough has done a good job now especially implementing the PACT Act, and continuing to stay in touch with individuals that are eligible for all the airborne hazards has been a great step by the VA. And now they just need to reach more and more people and they’re continuing to do that. So veterans out there who were exposed. Again, younger veterans either in Iraq or Afghanistan, who were exposed to airborne hazards should be getting reached by the VA or contact the VA to be able to take advantage of the new provisions under the PACT Act to make sure that they are recorded. And then as they have any health conditions, they can get help from the VA to take care of that.

Tom Temin: Mike Meese, president of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association.

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