November 11, 2023, marks the 105th anniversary of Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the First World War. This day marks the service of thousands of veterans — a group that is declining in numbers but growing more diverse.
What is a veteran, and who is considered one?
Title 38 of the United States Code defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.”
The code also outlines who qualifies for veteran status beyond active duty to include service members such as reservists, members of the National Guard, cadets and midshipmen at military academies, commissioned officers outside the Armed Forces, and those in training for military service. The Department of Veteran Affairs is responsible for determining veteran status and maintaining veteran benefit eligibility.
What is a protected veteran?
Some veterans are protected under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, which prohibits discrimination against certain veterans. Protected veterans meet the Title 38 qualifications but are afforded additional consideration due to disability, recent discharge, participation in wartime, or service recognition.
A snapshot of the veteran population
How many veterans are in the United States?
According to the Census Bureau, 6.2% of the adult American population, or 16.2 million people, identified as veterans in 2022. This number has been steadily declining for decades. Between 2010 and 2022, the total number of veterans fell by more than 5.5 million, or more than 25%.
In 2022, over half of living American veterans, over 8.2 million, served during two Gulf Wars — first between August 1990 and August 2001 (4.26 million), then between September 2001 and today (3.96 million). Over one-third of living veterans, more than 5.4 million, served in Vietnam. The Census also reports 795,600 living veterans who served in the Korean War or World War II.
What is the racial and ethnic makeup of American veterans?
In 2022, 74.2% of living veterans identified as white, the lowest percentage ever recorded by the Census Bureau. Black Americans were the second largest veteran racial group (12.4%). In 2022, 8.6% of veterans were of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Meanwhile, 7.5% of living veterans identified as belonging to two or more races.
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The racial and ethnic makeup of the veteran population differs from the country as a whole. Combined, white and Black Americans are 75.2% of the US population but 86.6% of the veteran population. Meanwhile, Asian Americans (6.3% of the US population) are underrepresented among veterans (2.3%).
The veteran population is aging. In 2022, almost half of veterans (49.3%) were 65 or older, while 26.5% were 75 or older; in 2012, 45% were 65 and older. Eight and a half percent of veterans in 2022 were under 35.
How has the gender and education status of the veteran population changed over time?
More than one in 10 living veterans are female. Female veterans have steadily increased over the past two decades — in 2000, 6% of veterans were female. In 2022, 89.7% of veterans were male. (The Census Bureau does not provide data on the number of transgender or nonbinary veterans.)
Veterans’ education levels have also shifted. Almost 70% of veterans in 2022 had at least some college experience or an associate’s degree. Meanwhile, the number of veterans who did not graduate high school has more than halved over the past 17 years to 722,567 in 2022.