Abstract: How Do Benefits and Employment Influence Poverty and Deep Poverty Among Wounded Military Veterans? (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

How Do Benefits and Employment Influence Poverty and Deep Poverty Among Wounded Military Veterans?

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Liberty Ballroom O, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Nicholas Barr, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
Vicky Albert, PhD, Professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV
Sara Kintzle, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Lara Berghammer, MPH, Researcher, Wounded Warrior Project, FL
Amanda Peterson, MA, Senior Researcher, Wounded Warrior Project, FL
Background: Over 3 million Americans have served in the US military since 9/11; over 53,000 have been wounded. Wounded veterans face challenges related to their physical and psychological injuries, and substantial research has been devoted to understanding associations between military-related injury and health outcomes. Despite the critical importance of financial stability as a determinant of overall health and wellbeing, income poverty and deep poverty among wounded veterans has received little research attention. This study modeled main and interaction effects of demographic characteristics, income sources, service-connected disability, and mental health variables on household poverty and deep poverty to enhance understanding of risk and protective factors for wounded veterans’ financial wellbeing.

Methods: Data were drawn from the Wounded Warrior Project’s 2018 Annual Warrior Survey (n=31,267). Two binary dependent variables, poverty and deep poverty, were generated by examining total income from veteran and spousal employment and non-work sources like Veterans’ Administration benefits; computing total income by household size; and comparing household income to the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds. Consistent with Census Bureau guidelines, we calculated deep poverty by household size as 50% of the poverty threshold. We then fit two logistic regression models to examine associations between demographic characteristics, income sources, VA disability rating, mental health screens, poverty (model 1) and deep poverty (model 2) outcomes. Finally, we estimated marginal effects for the interaction of employment status and benefits on outcomes.

Results: About 52% of respondents reported full or part-time employment, and 16.53% met criteria for household poverty. Of those in poverty, 75.14% met criteria for deep poverty, in contrast to about 45% in the general population. Model 1 results showed significant main effects for age (OR = 0.99, 95% CI: 0.98, 0.99), benefits (OR = 0.13, 95% CI: 0.10, 0.17) and not working (OR = 0.85, 95% CI: 0.74, 0.97), on poverty. Model 2 results indicated that for those in poverty, age (OR = 1.01, 95% CI: 1.00, 1.01) was positively associated with deep poverty while receiving benefits (OR = 0.10 95% CI: 0.08, 0.11) was negatively associated. For model 1, there were significant marginal effects for the interaction of benefits and employment status on poverty. Marginal effects plots showed that employment was associated with increased probability of poverty when respondents were not receiving benefits (p= 0.44-0.42); the probability of poverty was significantly lower for all employment categories when respondents were receiving benefits (p=0.07-0.09)

Conclusions: While many wounded veterans work despite their injuries, study findings showed that receiving benefits, not full or part-time employment, was protective against poverty and deep poverty. Older veterans were slightly less likely to be in poverty, but those older veterans who were in poverty were more likely to be in deep poverty. Mental health and demographic variables were not related to poverty outcomes in this study. While substantial research is needed to facilitate a granular understanding of wounded veterans’ poverty risk, study results suggest that employment may be insufficient protection against poverty for wounded veterans - cash benefits are a critical bulwark for this population.