Health is a top concern for the more than 200,000 U.S. service members who transition out of the military each year, according to a recent survey. About 53% of participants said they had chronic physical health conditions and 33% said they had chronic mental health conditions, after being surveyed three and nine months after leaving the military.
Experts say this type of survey reveals the importance of addressing veterans’ health concerns early before they worsen and further erode their health and well-being. In general, members of the military are among the healthiest people from the general population when they enlist, as soldiers must endure strict training to be physically and mentally prepared.
But the trauma of service in the military to the body and mind can complicate reintegration into everyday civilian life. Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system is available to veterans, largely veterans make use of civilian medical care facilities – emphasizing the importance of provider education on this group of Americans.
Veterans in the U.S.
The total veteran population in the U.S. was 19,162,515 vets in 2021. About 10.7% of that group was female veterans. Overall, the size of the veteran population is expected to decline to about 12 million veterans in 2045.
Veterans’ health issues differ from non-veterans in many ways:
- Compared to the rest of the U.S., veterans tend to be older: The median age of veterans is 64, compared to a median age of 44 for non-veterans.
- 6.4% of male veterans and 9.4% of female veterans live in poverty.
- Veterans were more likely to live above 400% of poverty level compared to non-veterans.
- Veterans are more likely to have health insurance than non-veterans.
- 22.8% of male veterans and 25.1% of female veterans have a service-connected disability.
- Veterans make up an estimated 12% of the homeless population.
Health issues among veterans
Veterans experience mental health disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury at disproportionate rates when compared to non-veterans. They are also more likely to have amputations and to have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, pollutants and infectious agents during the service.
Chronic pain is a highly common health issue for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom: 82% of veterans of these conflicts reported this as an issue.
One in three veterans were diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many veterans continue substance use disorder habits they developed during the service to cope with the stress of the military after they leave to manage the mental and physical pain they carry with them into the civilian world. These are contributing factors to the issue of suicide among veterans. Young veterans aged 18 to 44 are most at risk and veterans over the age of 50 are twice as likely to commit suicide than non-veterans.
Health issues by service area
After leaving the military the types of health issues veterans face vary by their service history. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has compiled a list of health issues for each area of service for veterans to be aware of:
- Operation Enduring Freedom
- Iraq War – Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn
- Gulf War – Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm
- Cold War Era
- Vietnam War
- Korean War
- World War II
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