Honoring Our Service Members

A By-the-Numbers Look at Difficulties Facing America’s Veterans on Veterans Day 2009

A by-the-numbers look at the challenges facing American veterans shows problems with mental health, addiction, homelessness, and finances this Veterans Day 2009.

Veterans fire a round during a rifle salute on Memorial Day earlier this year. (AP/Michael Paulsen)
Veterans fire a round during a rifle salute on Memorial Day earlier this year. (AP/Michael Paulsen)

This Veterans Day, we at the Center for American Progress once again honor the millions of brave men and women in the active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard who have made great sacrifices to protect our country and our freedoms—especially those who have given their lives. We also honor the families, friends, and loved ones who made their service possible.

This by-the-numbers look at service members and veterans paints a picture of the many men and women who have served our country and the difficulties they face before, during, and after deployments, including combat stress injuries and trouble finding jobs and affordable housing. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to put a tremendous burden on our fighting forces, and we must meet our obligation to provide them with the best possible care and support.

Who are our veterans?

Approximately 23.4 million veterans are currently living in the United States.

More than 1.8 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq since October 2001.

Approximately 37 million Americans are dependents (spouses and dependent children) of living veterans or survivors of deceased veterans. This represents about 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Mental health problems

Stanford University estimates that as many as 665,000 or 34 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet only 53 percent suffering from PTSD or major depression have seen a physician or mental health provider.

As of January 2009, nearly one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

Yet only 46 percent who experienced a mild traumatic brain injury were screened for a concussion.

According to the Army, 133 active duty and activated reserve soldiers committed suicide in 2008. That number makes for a rate slightly higher than the national average.

Lack of health care coverage

A research team at Harvard Medical School estimates that more than 2,200 U.S. military veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they lacked health insurance and thus had reduced access to care. That figure is more than 14 times the number of deaths suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died since the war began in 2001.


3,057 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were treated for drug dependency between 2005 and 2007. From 2002 through 2004, the Veterans Affairs Administration put that number at 277 veterans.

Combat veterans are 31 percent more likely to begin binge drinking than those not exposed to combat.


2,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have so far received help from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ homeless outreach program.

131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and twice that number were homeless at some point during 2008.

One-third of homeless Americans are veterans, even though only one-tenth of all adults are veterans.

11 percent of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are women, and 23 percent of the women in the VA’s homelessness programs have young children.

The housing crisis

8 percent of veterans serving since 2001 spend more than half of their income on housing.

Foreclosure rates in military towns increased at four times the national average in 2008.

Unemployment and low wages

61 percent of employers in a 2007 survey said they don’t have “a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer.”

More than 75 percent of veterans report “an inability to effectively translate their military skills to civilian terms.”

College-educated service members who have recently returned to civilian life earn almost $10,000 less per year on average than other college-educated adults.

We have no greater duty than to ensure that our troops receive the highest quality training before their deployments, the best equipment and medical care we can provide for them while in action, and the best help and care upon their return.

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