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Veterans’ Affairs: How Veterans Fare in the U.S. Today

by Countable | 11.9.18

  • Today is Veterans Day, and tomorrow the U.S. observes it with a federal holiday.
  • It seems a fitting time to contemplate the space veterans occupy in our society, the unique issues that arise from military service, and the adequacy and efficacy of policies designed to address them.

Context

According to our partners at USAFacts, a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative aimed at making government data accessible and understandable, the total number of veterans in the U.S. is declining. There were 24.3 million in 2005, which fell to 20.3 million in 2016, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available.

At the same time, we’re currently engaged in the longest war in U.S. history – the Afghanistan conflict – with no clear end in sight.

According to USAFacts, among veterans as of 2016:

  • 38 percent served in a Gulf War and 36 percent served in Vietnam.
  • More than a quarter are older than 65. Nearly another quarter are aged 35 to 54.

Source: USAFacts

  • 29.3 percent have a disability.
  • 6.9 percent live in poverty, lower than the 12.7 percent national poverty rate.

Source: USAFacts

Source: USAFacts

  • 28 percent have a bachelor’s degree.

Veterans in Congress

According to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, 80 members of the current House of Representatives are Veterans. The Congressional Veterans Caucus identifies 20 current Senators as veterans.

With this most recent election, the number of female veterans and younger veterans in Congress is rising even as the overall number of veterans in Congress remains on a steady decline.

A recent study found that veterans in Congress are key to bipartisanship. In the last Congress, 55 percent of veterans in the Senate scored above a two-decade historical average for bipartisanship, up from 43 percent among nonveterans.

Female veterans

After three new female veterans won election in Tuesday’s midterms, two lawmakers are renewing their push for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to change its motto to “be more inclusive to women.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) introduced new legislation Thursday for VA to update the current mission statement from “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” to a less gender-specific phrase.

According to a recent Washington Post article:

“In 2017, [Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America] launched the campaign, #SheWhoBorneTheBattle, focused on recognizing the service of female veterans and closing gaps in care VA provides to them. Women still regularly report being ‘eyeballed and catcalled’ or that they are assumed to be ‘wives or daughters of male veterans’ when entering a VA hospital or benefits office. VA only recently added women’s bathrooms.”

Government spending on veterans’ programs

USAFacts’ data show that from 1996 to 2016, expenditures for the Veteran’s Administration increased by 179 percent, adjusted for inflation, even as the number of veterans declined.

Costs were driven up by a 194 percent increase in compensation and spending benefits, a 132 percent increase in costs of veteran’s medical care, and a 531 percent increase in education and vocational rehabilitation benefits that came with the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Assistance Act.

Source: USAFacts

Veterans’ mind and body health

Veterans often grapple with unique health challenges that result from their service. Lawmakers have churned out numerous bills over the last year related to veterans’ policy; this summer’s VA Mission Act is arguably the most significant.

Among other sweeping changes, the Act calls for an overhaul to VA’s community care programs, which allow veterans to get medical appointments with private-sector doctors at the federal government’s expense.

According to the RAND Corporation:

“Almost a third of U.S. veterans live 40 miles or more from the nearest VA medical center, so the VA is trying to make it easier for them to use private providers closer to home. But it will take significant efforts to better prepare civilian doctors to deliver high-quality care to veterans.”

Suicide

According to the January 2014 Veterans Health Administration report, the suicide rate among veterans and military service members exceeds the national rate. Veterans account for 20 percent of national suicides, with approximately 22 veterans dying by suicide every day. Three out of five veterans who died by suicide were diagnosed as having a mental health condition.

More recently, the suicide rate among all veterans decreased slightly but the rate among young veterans increased dramatically in the latest VA figures released this September. The research came a day before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee questioned department officials over progress with suicide prevention efforts that showed mixed results.

What do you think?

These are just a few of the issues that affect veterans. What other topics do you think are important for those who’ve served in our armed forces? Are our policies related to veterans’ issues adequate and effective? Why or why not? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense / Public Domain)

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