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Research Synopsis

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Research Questions

  1. How do the social, health, and economic outcomes of Black veterans compare with those of Black civilians?
  2. How do the outcomes of Black veterans compare with those of White veterans and White civilians?

Despite the strong representation of Black Americans in military service, there is little research on the impact of military service on Black people — that is, whether Black veterans have better life outcomes, in terms of health, economic status, and social relationships — compared with their Black civilian counterparts and White veterans and civilians.

The authors of this report sought to address this knowledge gap by examining the ways in which military service might be correlated with experiences of Black individuals and by exploring several factors that could be meaningful to health and well-being for Black Americans. They reviewed literature and analyzed data from nationally representative surveys to examine four types of outcomes: physical health, behavioral health, economic stability, and interpersonal relationships.

Key Findings

Several positive outcomes were found to be associated with military service

  • A majority of Black veterans experience improved economic stability compared with Black Americans who have never served, as measured by higher income, improved ability to cover costs of medical and dental care, higher rates of homeownership, and decreased reliance on food assistance programs.
  • Black veterans have a substantially lower likelihood of marijuana use disorder than Black civilians and White veterans and civilians.
  • Black veterans are more likely to be married, and at younger ages, than Black civilians, which has been shown to be associated with positive economic and mental and physical health outcomes.

However, military service was also associated with some negative outcomes

  • Black veterans still struggle to achieve economic equity compared with White civilians and veterans on such indicators as annual income and need for food assistance.
  • Black veterans have higher odds than Black civilians of experiencing chronic pain, high-impact pain, hypertension, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, and work-related limitations.

Research conducted by

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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