How Veterans with Disabilities Wind Up Homeless

disabled veterans

The Tie Between Veterans with Disabilities, the Disappearance of Retail Employment, and Homelessness

Close your eyes for just a moment and imagine. I know it’s early, and you’ve barely finished your morning coffee. Or maybe it’s late, and you feel overloaded from the workday. I promise that by the end of this exercise, whatever you’re doing right now will seem much less burdensome.

Picture yourself back in high school. Remember the way that hard cold desk used to feel when you fell asleep halfway through watching Bill Nye the Science Guy’s experiments? Remember the smell of the pencil sharpener, that funny feeling of walking into the cafeteria on the first day wondering who had the same lunch timeslot from your group of friends?

Now, imagine you’re in twelfth grade. You’re nervous and even a little bit excited. Not just about the prom coming or the turkey squares the cafeteria lady’s getting ready to plop on your tray. No. You’re nervous and a little bit excited about your future.

In the hallway, you come across a decorated military officer who strikes up a conversation right along the lines of what you’re already thinking. Of course, he does. He’s trained to work with adolescents, to meet them, take them out, talk to them about their future, and eventually get them to enlist. There are so many benefits for veterans. Why wouldn’t you enlist? It’s a free education, lots of financial perks, the military opens doors that would otherwise be closed for an individual of your social status, etc.

You have nothing to worry about. You’ll only have to fight if there’s a war. And how often do those happen?

Your young mind is unaware of the bombs going off in far-flung territories. Soon, you will be right in the middle of that action. It happens fast. First the enlistment, next the training, and suddenly there you are, praying for your life in a foxhole. Gunfire takes your right arm in an event so horrific you will replay it in your head over and over again for years to come.

You return from war disabled, unmarried, staring at your former prom date on Facebook. Life is less exciting in the aisles of retail, but you’re still somewhat grateful to have a job.

But then, something unexpected happens yet again. An international health crisis puts employment on freeze. You are sent home from your retail employment position and promised unemployment. You wait a whole year to see that first check. Your rent is in arrears. You are on the brink of homelessness, a different kind of war.

Now open your eyes. Understand that this scenario might not be happening to you, but it is happening to veterans all across the country. If there’s one thing we all learned in elementary education, it’s that numbers never lie.

Here’s what the stats look like for disabled veterans working retail employment occupations in 2021.

Veterans are Already at a 50% Higher Risk for Homelessness than Non-Veterans

US veterans already exhibit a 50% higher risk for homelessness. One of the leading reasons for this is poverty. Another is a lack of support from family and society at large. Topping it all off is disabilities that render veterans less able to obtain high-paying employment positions and subsequent social acceptance.

This is a circular pattern for which there seemed to be no end. Now, it is more likely that the end is in sight and even less favorable than we once imagined.

Veterans with Disabilities Find Relief in Retail Positions

As expected, military veterans are much more likely to suffer from a disability than non-veterans. This often means employment limitations, a concept not mentioned during those initial recruiter meetings.

For many injured military members, retail positions are a viable employment path after serving in a war. According to Forbes, equipment retailer Camarillo is the number one place for veterans to find employment. Other retailers have followed suit, carving out a much-needed space for returning veterans to earn a living.

At least, that used to be true.

Those Retail Jobs are Quickly but Quietly Disappearing

Time Magazine calls what’s happening in retail employment a layoff “Merry-Go-Round” where workers climb aboard, fall down, get up, and cycle back again. As more and more customers turn to online shopping, a concept further popularized by pandemic shutdowns, retail jobs are vanishing from sight.

A year ago, CNBC reported that an astonishing 2 million retail jobs were lost in what experts assume will be a “permanent decline.”

This is the first time in recent history that essential jobs like this are fading out of the picture. Nobody’s raising a voice in protest.

It’s understandable. There’s so much happening in the world, so many causes, so little time. This one deserves your attention, too.

Remember that behind every homeless, disabled veteran lies a teenage girl or boy with a horizon full of hopes and dreams dashed in an instant they can never get back.

When you walk into a brick-and-mortar store, the smile that greets you has seen rivers of tears and made unimaginable sacrifices. While an American veteran’s struggle is unique, and the circumstances of veteran homelessness are complex, these topics, too, need a voice. Is that voice yours?

Be sure to contact your representatives and talk to them about veteran homelessness and how it is seeping back into the seams of our national landscape.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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