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Research Questions

  1. What are the demographics of the U.S. veteran population?
  2. How prevalent are mental health concerns among veterans, and how does prevalence differ across veteran and nonveteran demographics?
  3. What are the trends in veterans' labor market outcomes over time, and how do outcomes differ across veteran and nonveteran demographics?

This report documents analysis conducted across a variety of public nationally representative datasets to generate baseline estimates related to veterans' demographics, mental health, and labor market outcomes. The authors summarize relevant estimates and trends to support the work of policymakers and researchers focused on veteran-related issues and to inform public audiences interested in the welfare of the U.S. veteran population.

The authors first explore trends and estimates focused on the demographics of the veteran population, drawing primarily from the American Community Survey. They next present estimates focused on the mental and behavioral health of veterans, drawing primarily from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Finally, the authors explore trends and estimates focused on veterans' participation in the labor market, drawing primarily from the Current Population Survey's Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

Key Findings

  • Veterans are declining as a percentage of the overall population and are, on average, older, more likely to be male, and less racially or ethnically diverse than the overall nonveteran population.
  • The population of post-9/11 veterans is younger, more diverse (in terms of sex and race and ethnicity), and more educated than earlier cohorts of veterans and is growing in absolute size, although it remains less than one-quarter of the overall veteran population.
  • Overall, 6.9 percent of veterans met criteria for past-year serious psychological distress, which was significantly higher among female, gay/lesbian, bisexual, and post-9/11 veterans.
  • Within every age group, the prevalence of binge drinking and alcohol use disorder was numerically higher for veterans than for nonveterans.
  • Younger veterans (under age 65) were more likely than nonveteran peers to get mental health treatment, whereas older veterans (age 65 and older) were less likely than nonveteran peers to get treatment. For every age group, veterans were more likely than nonveterans to get alcohol/drug treatment.
  • Veterans exhibited slightly higher labor force participation rates than nonveterans.
  • Veterans experienced significantly different unemployment rates and labor force participation rates based on their race and ethnicity and compared with nonveterans.
  • Veterans less frequently possessed college and advanced degrees than nonveterans.
  • Veterans were overrepresented in public administration, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries and underrepresented in educational services, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food service industries compared with nonveterans.
  • Working-age veterans were more heavily concentrated in mid– to upper–family income brackets than nonveterans.

Research conducted by

Funding for this publication was made possible by a generous gift from Daniel J. Epstein through the Epstein Family Foundation. The research was conducted by the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute within RAND Education and Labor.

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