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Who Are the Nation’s Veterans?

Population

Who Are the Nation’s Veterans?

Population

Post-9/11 Veterans More Likely to Have a Service-Connected Disability

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Post-9/11 veterans, the youngest and most educated group of our nation’s veterans, face the highest disability rates from their service in the armed forces.

More than a third (1.5 million) of the nearly 3.8 million men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since September 2001 and are veterans, have a service-connected disability.

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Thanks to medical advances, veterans today are more likely to survive once-fatal injuries. But as fatalities have declined, the number of disabled veterans has risen.

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The findings come from a U.S. Census Bureau report released today on the characteristics and health of veterans in the United States in 2018: Those Who Served: America’s Veterans From World War II to the War on Terror.

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Post-9/11 Veterans

Thanks to medical advances, veterans today are more likely to survive once-fatal injuries. But as fatalities have declined, the number of disabled veterans has risen.

Veterans who served after 9/11 are more likely than other veterans to have a service-connected disability, even after accounting for differences in age, health, sex and economic resources.

Post-9/11 veterans, on average, have a 43% chance of having a service-connected disability. In comparison, Gulf War veterans have a 27% chance; Vietnam Era 16%; and peacetime-only veterans a 9% chance.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs classifies a disability as service-connected if it determines service in the armed forces caused or aggravated an injury or illness.  

The most obvious cases stem from combat injuries and trauma. But disabilities go beyond combat-related wounds. They include a range of injuries, diseases and illnesses, such as hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), degenerative arthritis and cancer.

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Disability Ratings Highest for Post-9/11 Veterans

Not only are Post-9/11 veterans the most likely to have a service-connected disability, they are the most likely to have the highest disability rating.

Set by the Department of Veterans Affairs, disability ratings range from 0% to 100%, with higher ratings reflecting a more severe disability or combination of disabilities.

Among Post-9/11 veterans with a disability, there is a more than a 1-in-3 chance that they will have the highest disability ratings (in this case, at least 70%), significantly more than any other group of veterans.

In comparison, Gulf War veterans with a disability have a 21% chance and Vietnam Era veterans with a disability have a 24% chance of having the highest disability ratings.

These findings hold true even after accounting for differences in the age, health, sex and economic resources of veterans.

 

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From “Shell Shock” to PTSD

Veterans of earlier wars and service periods experienced many of the same injuries and traumas as Post-9/11 veterans, but their disabilities may have gone undiagnosed or untreated.

In other words, we are better at diagnosing some injuries today. During the first and second world wars, “shell shock” and “combat fatigue” were widespread. But it was initially thought to stem from the concussive effects of bombardment or was sometimes viewed as a matter of soldiers’ exhaustion. Systematic efforts to diagnose and treat post-traumatic stress disorder did not come until decades later.

Post-9/11 veterans may also face distinctive tours of duty or service conditions, which veterans of other service periods did not experience. For example, they may face longer or repeated deployments, both of which could increase the risk of disability.

Which veterans from earlier service periods are still alive also plays a key role.

For example, the sickest and most injured veterans from the Vietnam Era and Korean War may have already died, leaving a relatively healthier pool of survivors compared with Post-9/11 veterans.

In contrast, the healthiest Post-9/11 service members may still be actively serving, which would leave the current group of Post-9/11 veterans with disproportionately higher rates of disability.

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Some other report highlights:

  • Between 2000 and 2018, the number of veterans in the United States declined by one-third, from 26.4 million to 18.0 million.
  • Women make up a growing share of veterans. Today, about 1.7 million or 9% of veterans are women. By 2040, it is projected that number will jump to 17%.
  • Veterans from recent service periods have the highest levels of education. More than 75% of Post-9/11 and Gulf War veterans have at least some college education and more than a third of Gulf War veterans have a college degree.
  • Gulf War veterans (who served between 1990 and 2001) have the highest median income of any group of veterans: $61,400. In comparison, Post-9/11 veterans have a median income of $50,100.

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Jonathan Vespa is a demographer in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division.

 

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This story was posted in: Population


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