This year marks the 102nd anniversary of Armistice Day. What started as a day to commemorate the armistice that ended World War I has evolved in the United States: now it marks the service of thousands of men and women. All these years later, what’s life like for American veterans? Let’s look at data on veterans across the country and how they are served by the government.
According to the US Census, 6.9% of the adult population, or 17.4 million people, identified as veterans in 2019. With the overall size of the military declining and older veterans passing away, the number of people identifying as veterans has steadily declined for two decades.
In 2019, 9.4% of veterans were women, compared with 6% in 2000. The share of veterans who served during the Vietnam War, Korean War or World War II was 44.4% in 2019. The share of veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was 21.7% More than half of veterans today are over 65 years old, nearly 81.4% of veterans are white.
Prior to the 2020 pandemic, the economic situation of veterans was improving in some ways, particularly in comparison to the overall population. The nation’s unemployment rate in 2019 was 3.7%; the rate for veterans was even lower at 3.1%
According to the Census, there were over nine million employed veterans in 2019, with the largest group of veterans — 22% — working in government. They also often find work in manufacturing (12% of veterans are in that industry), and professional and business services (11% of veterans), which includes jobs such as those in consulting, management, and accounting. Younger veterans are even more likely than older veterans to work in government, whereas older veterans are more likely to be self-employed.
Veterans also earn more on average than non-veterans. The median 2019 income for veterans was $44,241, while the median income of adult civilians was $35,977. The veteran poverty was 6.7% in 2019, the same as in 2000, and 29.9% of veterans have disabilities.
Fewer veterans face homelessness now than in years past, according to Point in Time counts. In 2018, the VA estimated that there were 38,000 homeless veterans, down almost 50% from the 2001 estimate of 65,000.
The government spent nearly $200 billion in 2018 on the Department of Veterans Affairs, accounting for 5% of all federal spending. Most of that spending funds veterans’ compensation, pension benefits, and medical care.
In 2018, the VA spent $71 billion on veteran medical care, serving more than 6 million patients. Spending per patient varies significantly across the priority group of veterans, which gives urgency to patients based on the severity of their disability or medical condition, and whether the condition is related to their service.
More than four million veterans used the disability compensation program in 2016, making it the VA’s most-accessed program. The number of veterans taking advantage of education benefits was just over one million in 2016, almost double the veterans using the benefit in 2008.
With each passing year since 2000, the US has fewer and fewer veterans. Veterans are seeing improvements in quality of life, including lower unemployment rates. Conversely, increased poverty and disability rates mean their situation is worsening in other ways. Even with a shrinking veteran population, government spending on veterans is up, with a growing amount of funding going to disability compensation and medical care.
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