Remembering America’s Veterans in 2016

On Veterans Day, the Center for American Progress offers a statistical snapshot of the nation's veterans and the challenges they face.

Soldiers bow their heads during a memorial ceremony for shooting victims on April 9, 2014, at Fort Hood, Texas. (AP/Eric Gay)
Soldiers bow their heads during a memorial ceremony for shooting victims on April 9, 2014, at Fort Hood, Texas. (AP/Eric Gay)

This Veterans Day—as on all Veterans Days—we at the Center for American Progress, especially those who have served, pause to honor the brave men and women who serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces—especially those who have given their lives or suffered physical or mental wounds in the course of defending this great nation. We also pay tribute to the families who have lost a loved one, suffered from the wounds of war, and dealt with frequent deployments away from home in order to make this service possible.

As we remember the sacrifices made by all veterans since the nation’s founding, we especially thank those still putting their lives on the line on our behalf around the world, particularly in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the continuing struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as other terrorist groups. More than 15 years after 9/11, the United States still has thousands of troops fighting against Al Qaeda and its offshoots in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Many more troops are deployed elsewhere around the globe to protect the nation’s interests and promote its values. In addition, we must continue to provide the best possible care and support for both those who have and those who will come home from their deployments.

The challenges still facing our service members and veterans range from dealing with physical and mental injuries to unemployment and homelessness. The president and Congress must continue to work together to take care of our men and women in uniform, particularly as they navigate the difficult transition from military service to the civilian sector.

Who are our veterans?

  • Approximately 21 million veterans are currently living in the United States.
  • About 3 million veterans are from the post-9/11 era.


  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 4.3 percent of veterans were unemployed as of October 2016, compared with the national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.
  • However, Gulf War-era II veterans—those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan—had a 4.7 percent unemployment rate in October 2016, with 153,000 out of work—higher than the unemployment rates for veterans of any other era.

Suicide and mental health problems

  • According to the most recent data, 40,571 male veterans and 2,637 female veterans died by suicide between 2000 and 2010.
  • Female veterans committed suicide at rates more than five times greater than female civilians in the same time frame, and the suicide rate for women rose 83 percent between 2001 to 2014, compared with 40 percent among their civilian counterparts.
  • The risk of suicide is 21 percent higher when compared with civilian adults.
  • Young veterans between the ages 18 and 29 face the greatest risk of suicide. Suicide rates among veterans in this age range are nearly five times higher for men and more than 10 times higher for women than suicide rates among their counterparts in the civilian population.
  • According to a 2012 RAND Corporation study, about 14 percent of service members who were previously deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan reported symptoms indicative of probable post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
  • The RAND study also found that U.S. National Guard and Army Reserve members, women, Hispanics, those who served longer deployments, and those who had more extensive exposure to combat were more likely than other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to report PTSD symptoms.
  • An estimated 22 percent of all U.S. combat casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan involved traumatic brain injury, or TBI, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, or DOD, and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.


  • About 47,725 veterans were homeless in the United States on a single-night survey in January 2015—the most recent year for which national data is available.
  • In 2015, veterans accounted for 11 percent of all homeless adults according to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
  • Veteran homelessness declined by 39 percent between 2010 and 2015. The rate dropped 4 percent between 2014 and 2015, the lowest amount since 2010. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, committed $1.4 billion to programs to prevent and end homelessness among veterans.
  • Fifty-four percent of homeless veterans have a mental and/or physical disability.
  • According to a 2010 HUD study, young veterans are more than twice as likely to become homeless as nonveteran adults of a similar age.


  • Binge drinking is more common in the military, with 9 percent of service members reporting heavy drinking and one-third reporting binge drinking within a 30-day period.
  • Combat veterans are 31 percent more likely to begin binge drinking than service members who do not experience combat.
  • Prescription drug abuse, initially intended to act as a solution to battle injuries, is also on the rise among veterans.
  • In 2010, about 788,000 veterans were diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder at a VA medical center. Alcohol abuse accounted for about half of the diagnoses, and 23 percent of veterans with a substance abuse diagnosis were also diagnosed with PTSD.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

  • The VA health system serves nearly 9.4 million veterans per year as of 2015, the most recent year with complete data.
  • Overall, the care provided by the VA health system outperforms the private sector on metrics such as management of chronic conditions, cancer screening, and hospital care quality indicators. Mental health care is as good or better than mental health care in the private sector.
  • However, access to care remains a problem. Following a scandal about VA medical centers manipulating wait time data for veterans in May 2014, Congress devoted additional resources to the VA health system. However, increased demand is outstripping the additional resources, and waiting times for appointments remain long—often more than 30 days. Long waits for care are particularly acute for mental health care.
  • Female veterans often find that the VA is not able or willing to provide the care they need, particularly for mental health issues, such as PTSD, and for military sexual trauma. Many VA medical centers do not offer important women’s health services. One-third of VA medical centers lack a gynecologist on staff and about one-third also lack staff to provide adequate treatment for sexual assault.
  • The VA has made great progress in improving the disability claims process and backlog while also expanding eligibility for vets suffering from PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, or Gulf War syndrome. The number of pending claims has decreased by two-thirds to 373,483, while backlogged claims are down nearly 90 percent to 75,670.

Military sexual trauma

  • Both male and female service members have experienced military sexual trauma. According to the most recent DOD survey, 5,240 members reported experiencing sexual assault during their service in fiscal year 2015.
  • Sexual assault is often underreported. An estimated 5 percent of women and 1 percent of men experienced sexual assault in the military in 2015.
  • In 2015, an estimated 20,300 service members were victims of sexual assault in the military.
  • In 2015, 1 in 4 female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans told the VA they had experienced sexual abuse in the military.
  • According to DOD data, 62 percent of service members who have reported sexual assault have experienced retaliation or ostracism after reporting the assault.
  • The VA has struggled to provide quality and gender-sensitive care to female veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma.

How you can help

Below is a list of several organizations dedicated to helping the men and women who are serving or who have served in our armed forces, as well as their families:

This Veterans Day, and throughout the year, remember those who have served in our armed forces, and honor their struggles and sacrifices.

Carly Evans is an intern at the Center for American Progress and the granddaughter of veterans. Lawrence Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Carly Evans

Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow