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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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(37)
  • MisterRelevant
    11/11/2018
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    Honorable Veterans should be getting the best care for life. No Veteran should be homeless, starving or have injuries and illnesses untreated. These people have given it ALL so you can have the pleasures of freedom. God Bless America!

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  • Dave
    11/11/2018
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    The bill - American Veteran Employment (BRAVE) Act — would authorize the Dept.t of Veterans Affairs (VA) to give preference to contractors. As much I support veterans and I and my brothers have served in the military, corporations and business already get a break for hiring a vet, handicap, Minorities and others. The tax breaks are what they already receive. This would be another form discrimination. Veterans need help in general, but not this. 29.3 percent have a disability. 6.9 percent live in poverty, lower than the 12.7 percent national poverty rate. This needs to be fixed by rehabilitation and financial help, plus education. Sense 2009 to 2016 the vet have got the largest increase in support and help. Under trump, healthcare and funding is now in question, The Senate is controlled by the Republicans, they can block things, if not them, than Trump can Vito it. Hopefully some of republicans will do what is best for the country that the veterans fought for.

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  • BacktotheRight
    11/11/2018
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    I don’t have first hand experience with how any veterans are treated but I do want to take a second to thank every single one of them who may read this comment. What you do for this country is something I’ve only ever thought of doing. You’re by far the bravest and most courageous of our people. The things we take for granted here would be a memory if people like you didn’t fight and die for us. I want to thank you and the people you’ve lost, the people we’ve all lost as Americans, for living, fighting, and dying for this great free country of ours. God bless you and your families.

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  • Thelma
    11/11/2018
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    The VA must be funded adequately, increased if necessary. Data shows that, despite the Veteran populations’ medical and social complexity, outcomes and satisfaction surveys are not significantly different from civilian medical practice, and may actually be better in some areas. Civilian medicine is not designed for Veterans and does not provide the care Veterans need. Currently there is a staffing shortage that is causing more Veterans to seek care outside the VA, which increases the complexity of care (duplication of testing, multiple medical records, unnecessary testing, etc). Please fund the VA adequately and help provide the care our Veterans need and deserve.

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  • Jim2423
    11/11/2018
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    We here in Reno are fortunate to have one of the best VA Hospitals and doctors, nurses and staff. We also have a great group of Volunteer Drivers who bring Vets to their appointments, not only in the local area, but outlying towns also. Would like to see more VS Clinics in more outlying rural areas. To all Veterans I salute you and hope your day is great.

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  • Ellen
    11/11/2018
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    Our VA at LomaLinda in calif has been the best in caring for our needs. I have another medical I use. Kaiser, but my friend has low income and VA has be over and above with his care. We need continues support of these VA facilities.

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  • James
    11/11/2018
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    Milwaukee VA is Top Notch as it’s the oldest in the country! They partner with the Medical College of Wisconsin so all the specialists and surgeons are very good! It’s a big hospital and very busy! I have no complaints! They have been there for me! Go Vets!

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  • Aimee
    11/11/2018
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    Disrespectful that trump stayed in a hotel room because of the rain rather than honor our current and fallen soldiers! To deploy our troops on the border to fight a non existent caravan of terrorists is bs! Waste of our soldiers time! Non responsible gop stays silent

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  • Mark
    11/12/2018
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    The GOP has abandoned veterans.

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  • Poli.Sci
    11/11/2018
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    When my friend, a combat veteran of Afghanistan for three tours and still serves as a field engineer in the National Guard, came back from Afghanistan, he sat in a room with a military doctor and instead of diagnosing him for his severe PTSD at the time, they handed him a bag of assorted drugs and told him to take them. He quickly became an alcoholic and nearly lost his family before he pulled himself up and rejoined the military to give himself a purpose again. This is how our veterans are treated when they come home. That is NOT how you appreciate them one little bit. You work with them and reward them for their life service, or you put them in the ground because their mind and spirit never returned home. Better funding goes a long way. And for Countable, as a legislative news app and voter participation app, I encourage you to know the true definition of a war. The United States has not been at war since the Second World War. Know your facts.

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  • STATECHAMPMANBDB
    11/11/2018
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    HAPPY VETERANS DAY AMERICA! THE PLAN FOR THE NATIONAL BUDGET TOWARDS THE U.S. MILITARY NEEDS TO BE UPDATED WITH DEMOCRATIC VALUES POLICIES AND POSSIBLE DEMOCRATIC INSPIRED LEGISLATION. MILITARY SERVICE SHOULD REQUIRED AT LEAST A HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE ALSO!

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  • ConservativeGuy
    11/13/2018
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    Better than under the last guy?

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  • Robert
    11/11/2018
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    I know my Rep. has done a lot for Vets locally. That is one of the reasons I voted for him again😁

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  • John
    11/11/2018
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    We need to prioritize the care of our veterans over anything concerning military action

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  • Kathleen
    11/11/2018
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    Our local VA Hospital and other facilities here in San Diego are the best! I am a Viet Nam Era veteran married to a Viet Nam vet. I requested Viet Nam, but they sent me here. I believe our VA facilities are as good as they are for several reasons. We have several military bases and facilities here - Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. We also have UCSD Medical School located right across the street from the VA Hospital. In addition, many former military members and retirees choose to stay in San Diego. The one big problem we do have is homeless vets. But there is help for most. Many thanks to all civilians who support our nation’s veterans! I do wish all Americans were required to serve in some way - military, Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, church, Conservation Corps... Whatever they could do best, working for the greater good and for the country. I went into the Marine Corps shortly after I turned 18. The experience has effected my life ever since.

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  • Dara
    11/11/2018
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    Shame on both houses of congress for their deplorable policies and treatment of Veterans. Every veteran should have quality healthcare and services for life. Instead we have elected officials that continuously turn their backs on our revered service members. Both parties need to put their voting power to work for our veterans. They have earned their rights to services.

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  • Miles
    11/11/2018
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    Under Trump they’re doing better than they ever have in terms of poverty and unemployment, as they should. We should allocate more resources toward mental health care for them though.

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  • Rachel
    11/12/2018
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    “Troops at the border are sleeping in tents that house 20 soldiers and have no electricity or air conditioning, with some suffering heat exhaustion within days of starting the mission. There's no mess hall — only pre-made "Ready-to-Eat" meals — and the only phone chargers available are attached to "a few generators that power spotlights around the living area." Department of Defense officials worry that if the number of troops increases to 15,000, the cost could be as high as $200 million.” -Axios Happy.... Veterans Day?

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  • Barb
    11/11/2018
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    Almost funny. Many vets have to go to independent help centers to get their benefits. It’s a constant fight for them. Benefits are given, then taken away a few years later for no reason. Then the vet had to fight again. VA under this nasty administration is worse than ever. How about a bill that would give vets their rights and stop the games the VA plays with their lives.

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  • Leon
    11/11/2018
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    Again, veterans should not have to pay income taxes. Ever. Healthcare should be as good as our Congress enjoys. They earned it.

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