Men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces play essential roles in maintaining the safety and security of our country. Nearly 22 million Americans living today have served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces — 2.6 million of whom are currently on active duty or in the National Guard and Military Reserves, and more than 19.5 million of whom are retired. Those who have served continue to face unique health challenges and needs.
Our nation looks to men and women in uniform to serve and protect, and it is our duty to respond to and support their overall health and health care needs. To do so, we must work toward a clearer understanding of their health circumstances and prioritize developing solutions that address the challenges they face. Since 2016, the America’s Health Rankings Health of Those Who Have Served Report has provided a national portrait of the health and well-being of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. In 2017, the Health of Women Who Have Served Report focused specifically on challenges among females who have served.
The United Health Foundation, in partnership with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), is pleased to update the Health of Those Who Have Served Report this year to highlight new trends and findings about the similarities and differences in health between those who have served and their civilian counterparts, as well as within groups of those who have served. Through ongoing collaboration with an advisory steering group of leading military, veterans and public health organizations, this important work builds on United Health Foundation’s ongoing commitment to leverage data to improve the health of men and women who have served.
As we seek to better understand the current population of those who have served, it is important to also look ahead at how shifting demographics may change health needs for these individuals. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs projects the size of the veteran population will decrease by approximately 30% to 13.6 million by 2048. Racial and ethnic diversity among veterans will also rise, and people of color will account for nearly one-third (35.3%) of the total veteran population by 2040. In addition, women are also becoming an increasingly larger proportion of the veteran population.
The changing face of this population creates unique health challenges and places new demands on both the health care system and individual communities. Although many service members return from active duty and combat without physical injuries and receive education, employment and other benefits associated with service, some face serious and lasting health effects.
Evolving Health Needs
As this population ages, the burden of chronic disease will continue to grow, especially among those who served in the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Women who have served also face unique health challenges. Despite higher education levels and higher incomes, women with military service have a greater prevalence of physical and mental health concerns than civilian women.
Those returning from overseas deployments in more recent years face unique combat-related circumstances and challenges as well. As a volunteer force and the largest, longest lasting mobilization of National Guard and Military Reserves, these service members face more frequent and longer deployments as well as exposure to and survival from extreme stresses of combat. Data show these individuals may experience behavioral and mental health challenges. These changes and circumstances have contributed to unprecedented rates of behavioral and mental health concerns, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
These changing dynamics emphasize the continued need for policymakers, public health officials and community leaders to monitor the health of those who have served through a wide lens, including measures of behaviors and social determinants that influence health.
The America’s Health Rankings® 2020 Health of Those Who Have Served Report provides a comprehensive national portrait and examines trends of the health and well-being of those who have ever served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. It remains the only national resource to provide comprehensive population-based data and trends over time on the health of men and women who have served. The report fills an important gap in the field and is intended for a broad range of audiences including advocates, policymakers, government officials and constituents at the national, state and local levels. The report’s objectives are to:
- Describe the health of those who have served across 29 measures of social and economic factors, behaviors, clinical care and health outcomes. Comparisons between those who have and have not served are examined overall and by age, gender, race/ethnicity, education and income.
- Provide trends on health and well-being improvements and challenges over time for those who have served overall and in comparison to those who have not served by age, gender, race/ethnicity, education and income.
- Build awareness of the breadth and magnitude of health concerns facing those who have served overall and for specific population groups.
- Stimulate dialogue and action to inform health priorities and improve the health of those who have served, recognizing the military community is an evolving segment of the U.S. population facing distinct needs.