Despite the often fuzziness of the baseline numbers of American military veterans currently living in a given year, as I explored in this piece last week, there are some things that we do know with decent certainty about the demographics of our contemporary veterans. These can help us fill in the portrait of the modern veteran and their family. 

For instance, we know that over 200,000 soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines, Guardians, and Coasties separate from the military every year. These have to re-embark on their civilian lives whether through pursuing the pathway of higher education or employment, or perhaps (less often) outright retirement from the labor force. We know that today, there are around 18 million veterans, that the majority are white males, and that approximately 10% of veterans are females. We know that the number of veterans is annually declining throughout America, from the high of 28.6 million in 1980, when veterans from America’s largest wars—WWI, WW2, Korea, and Vietnam—were still all alive, by nearly 40% by 2045, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs

We know that post-World War II veterans now exceed that substantial WW2 cohort—over 16 million Americans served during that war alone. We know that Gulf War era (which includes the Post-9/11 era) veterans are now the largest cohort of veterans; that the median age of veterans today is 65; that the median age of our contemporary Post-9/11 era veteran is 37. We know that more than 41 million Americans have served over the course of the nation’s history, since the American War of Independence. And we know that today, only about 7% of the adult population is a veteran, and that less than 1% of the adult population volunteers for military service any longer. We know that approximately 60% of those who volunteer to join the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) military now come from military families—families where at least one member, if not more, has already served. 

We know that veterans from more recent service periods have the highest levels of education among all the cohorts of American veterans. More than three-quarters of Post-9/11 and Gulf War veterans have at least some college experience, and more than one-third of Gulf War veterans have a college degree.

We also know that where veterans have been making their permanent residences has shifted over the last decades. Unsurprisingly, it mirrors where the U.S. Armed Forces gets the majority of its recruits. Today, the majority of veterans live in the South and West, whereas previous cohorts used to live primarily in the Northeast and Midwest. Due to that historic shift, it is immensely less surprising that today, veterans in the South and West have less access to way fewer and far between VA health facilities than do those veterans living in the more densely populated Midwest and Northeast—or that those facilities in the latter regions are on average decades older than the average health care facility in the United States. 

And what do we also know? Contrary to popular depictions of, or reflexive reactions to, veterans, we now know through a wealth of scientific data, veterans are healthier, wealthier, and more civically engaged than their civilian peers.