Veterans Day is always a time of reflection for me.
My grandfather served in the Army and was stationed in Germany for several years during WWII. My father also served in the Army, but entirely state-side. My brother is active-duty Army. He is a full bird colonel Army doctor, with over 25 years of service, including combat duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am humbled by the sacrifices they made for our country. But for Veterans Day 2020, I wanted to learn about today’s military and veterans more broadly. I was surprised by what I found.
Today, there are approximately 1.3 active duty US military personnel. The face of the US military is changing in all branches. Increasingly, those faces are of women and minorities.[i] Racial and ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department active-duty military in 2015, up from 25% in 1990.[ii] Today, more Black women join the Army than they do the civilian labor force.[iii] Think about that for a minute! Black women outnumber black men in the Army by almost 2 to 1.[iv] Imagine what that means for the future! 21% of officers in the Airforce are women, the second highest percentage of any service branch (the Coast Guard is higher at 23%).[v] Today, we have 17.4 million veterans. In fact, 7% of our total population has seen military service. California supplies the most recruits, with Texas running second.[vi] Approximately 10% of all veterans experience combat and 5.2 million veterans or fully 25% have a service-related disability.[vii] That’s 1 in 4.
So, how well do we, the civilian population, honor our Veterans and active-duty soldiers? According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 3% of male veterans and 3.7% of female veterans were unemployed at the start of the pandemic, although that percentage varies by State, with Montana having the highest rate of veteran unemployment – over 6%.[viii] Nationally, that is about the same as the able-bodied civilian population at the same time.[ix] Wait times for VA medical services can vary widely from state to state, with routine, specialty and mental health appointments running 30 days or more.[x] There are nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in the US,[xi] With California having the highest number, nearly 11,000.[xii] And while it’s still too high, this number is down 50% from 2010.[xiii] And active service families report widespread issue with military housing, with 55% reporting sub-standard conditions.[xiv]
So, as I reflect today for Veteran’s Day, I find a mixture of hope and need. The military is fundamentally changing. I am encouraged to see the largest employer in the world become more representative of our country as a whole. That change never comes fast enough. And we need to do better as a country in recognizing the value of service. The 25% of service-related disabilities and the substantial barriers to medical care are startling and horrifying. The widespread claims of substandard housing are disheartening. We talk a lot about allyship in the disability space. It is important for us to remember the responsibility and power of that allyship for our veterans. We talk about holding our elected officials accountable, but what can we do as individual allies? I am glad I took the time to learn more about this. But being better informed is just the first step. That’s where the work begins.
Thank you to our nation’s Veterans and thank you to all of you for reading my Veteran’s Day reflection.