As Veterans Population Changes, Service and Health Care Systems Must Adapt
The proposed reductions in the Pentagon’s budget have a lot of people worried that smaller will mean weaker. The defense and aerospace industry, which had another year of record profits in 2011, is spending a lot of effort trying to convince Congress that anticipated drawdowns are bad for national security and for the bottom line. Americans, it turns out, know better. A recent nonpartisan survey shows that the public supports cuts overwhelmingly; this is true across the board, regardless of whether a respondent was in a red or blue state or in a district with large defense spending.
This shift in how we plan to fight needs to extend to how we plan to honor those who have already served. All the focus on the challenges facing returning veterans — unemployment, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, health issues, and reintegration for a population that has deployed multiple times in the last decade — is important, but those challenges are qualitative, not quantitative. There is another basic fact — a statistical certainty — that should change the way we administer to the needs of veterans.
There just won’t be as many of them.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are about 22.9 million Americans who have served in wars as far back as World War II. The end of conscription and the natural deaths of Vietnam-era troops will send that number — assuming we still have an all-volunteer military and projections on the size of the military hold — plummeting to about 14 million by 2036, with large declines in subsequent years.