Background on Veterans

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As of June 2013, there are more than 22 million veterans aged 18 or older in the U.S. About 2.4 million of them are veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). However, returning home does not mark the end of hardship for these heroes, as many veterans are faced with a frightening number of issues, including depression, unemployment and homelessness.

Quick Statistics

In 2008, there were 9.2 million veterans aged 65 and older. On the other end of the scale, 1.9 million were under 35.

There are 7.8 million Vietnam veterans (35% of all living veterans served during this era), 5.2 million who served during the Gulf War, and 2.6 million World War II veterans.

PTSD and Mental Health

1 in 3 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will face a serious psychological injury. Nearly 1 in 5 veterans has been diagnosed with PTSD.

300,000 troops have been deployed to the Middle East at least three times. Multiple tours increase rates of combat stress by 50%.

12% of high level combat troops in Iraq and 17% in Afghanistan take prescription antidepressants or sleeping medications.

Only about 50% of those screening positive for PTSD or major depression seek help.

Healthcare for a veteran with PTSD costs 3.5 times as much as care for those not diagnosed with the disorder. Treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD who served in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost more than $2 billion so far.

Suicides among U.S. troops are up 18% since 2012, averaging nearly one a day—the highest they’ve been since the war on terror began a decade ago. Suicide has risen to the highest noncombat death toll among soldiers.

Veterans account for 20% of all U.S. suicides, and younger veterans—aging from 17 to 24—have suicide rates four times higher than other veterans.

A number of PTSD diagnoses have been linked to military sexual trauma (MST), defined as sexual assault or harassment that occurred during a veteran’s service. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men have admitted to suffering MST. Due to social stigma against harassment and assault victims, it is likely that there are many more victims who choose to remain silent.

75% of veterans of the war in Vietnam have experienced drug, alcohol, or mental health problems. Over 40,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been treated for drug abuse, though it is likely that there are thousands more who avoid treatment.                 

Disability and Injury

About 68% of those wounded in action experienced blast-related injuries, which can lead to traumatic brain injury (TBI). About 19% of troops report possible TBI during deployment, but 57% of them are not evaluated for brain injury.

About 1.3 million of 2 million veterans between 2002 and 2011 were eligible for VA health care, but only 53% have sought it.

In 2010, 3.4 million veterans had service connected disabilities and 26% of veterans living in poverty had a disability.

51% of homeless veterans have disabilities.

About 21.3% of veterans apply for VA disability compensation. Of those who don’t, 34% actually have service connected disabilities.


The U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night.

13% of the adult homeless population is composed of veterans.

50% of homeless veterans have serious mental illnesses, and 70% have substance or alcohol abuse problems.

40% of homeless female veterans have said they were sexually assaulted while in the military.

9% of homeless veterans between the ages of 18 and 30, though only 5% of all veterans are in this age group. 41% of homeless veterans are between the ages of 31 and 50. This leaves 50% of homeless veterans at age 51 or older.

Almost 50% of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam War.

1.4 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of proper support, and dismal living conditions.


As of June 2013, there are approximately 687,000 unemployed veterans.

From June 2012 to June 2013, the veteran unemployment rate declined from 7.4% to 6.3%.

While this is partially due to aid efforts paying off, a decline of the unemployment rate can also indicate that unemployed veterans have become discouraged and may have left the work force entirely. The economic definition of unemployment requires that the unemployed individual be actively seeking a job. However, many veterans have lost hope in ever obtaining jobs and stop searching, becoming extremely vulnerable to poverty and homelessness.

While the number of veterans increased by 210,000 from 2012 to 2013, the veteran labor force shrank by 8,000, and the number of veterans not in the labor force increased by 230,000.

In an effort to curb veteran unemployment, President Obama proposed to spend $1 billion over five years to establish a veteran jobs corp., employing veterans to work on public land projects and access a network of job training centers. However, it was turned back in the Senate by two votes. There have been efforts since to revive the notion. 

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Sources: Face the Facts USA, Bureau of Labor StatisticsNational Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Veterans for Common Sense, Truth Out, IAVA, Disabled World, LA Times