Honoring Our Veterans on Memorial Day

We Must Repair Our Social Compact with Our Troops

This Memorial Day, we take a by-the-numbers look at how our troops have been hit by health problems and the economic crisis, and why we need to restore our social compact with them.

A veteran injured during his second tour in Iraq visits Arligton National Cemetary on Memorial Day last year. (AP/Lawrence Jackson)
A veteran injured during his second tour in Iraq visits Arligton National Cemetary on Memorial Day last year. (AP/Lawrence Jackson)

This Memorial Day, the Center for American Progress wishes to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. We remember the many thousands of brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen who have fallen while fighting on our behalf. On this day, we also honor those still serving and their families who continue to make sacrifices for us. We commemorate these men and women and wish to express our gratitude to them and the families they have left behind for their eternal sacrifice.

This by-the-numbers look at our active duty servicemen and veterans highlights the many men and women who have served our country and are still in need of services to improve their quality of life—before, during, and after deployments. This year, the need is even more urgent than ever as the economic crisis hits many veterans and their families hard and these Americans struggle to find jobs, pay their mortgages, and get back on their feet.

Who are our veterans?

Approximately 25 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

338,000 or almost one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, or major depression as of January 2009.

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

357,000 or about one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced a traumatic brain injury as of January 2009.

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

Less than half of veterans who suffer from psychological and neurological injuries are receiving sufficient treatment.

Every day, five U.S. soldiers try to kill themselves. Before the Iraq war began, that figure was less than one suicide attempt a day.


At least 7,400 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been treated at a Veterans Administration hospital for drug addiction, and at least 27,000 have been diagnosed with “nondependent use of drugs.”

VA hospitals have diagnosed 16,200 new veterans with alcohol dependence syndrome.


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

154,000 veterans were homeless on any given night in 2007, and 300,000 were homeless at some point during that year.

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 service members spend more than half of their income on housing.

Foreclosure rates in military towns were increasing at four times the national average in last year.

Unemployment and low wages

Over 8 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed in 2007, which at the time was two percentage points higher than the rest of the adult population.

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.”

Service members who have recently returned home earn almost $10,000 less per year on average than other college-educated adults.

We have no greater duty than to repair the social compact with our troops, ensuring that they 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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