On Veterans’ Day: 3 Facts About the Nation’s Newest Veterans

A mixed bag for those who have served since 9/11

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Parents have been asking for a generation or more if their tyke’s woes are nature or nurture. America should be asking the same question about its military veterans.

On Veterans’ Day — which is today, Monday, Nov. 11, for all of those of you who have forgotten to put out your flags — it’s only natural to ponder how well the latest vet crop, those who have served since 9/11, is faring.

To be sure, the nation can always do better by its veterans, old and young. But here are some facts about post–9/11 vets worth noting:

1. A lower percentage of veterans, as a whole, is unemployed (6.3%) compared with their never served counterparts (7.3%). But that’s not true of those who have worn the uniform post–9/11, who had a 10% jobless rate last month.

Yet younger vets have help prior generations never did, according to a recent study:

For Iraq/Afghanistan-era veterans, there are many resources available to assist with transition to civilian life that were not available for veterans returning from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Changes in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense policies have led to universal eligibility for VA healthcare, comprehensive Veteran Resource Centers and initiatives like the Yellow Ribbon Program to assist veterans with educational and vocational goals. The results of this study indicate that veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are faring well in the current labor market, largely because of the support that these programs provide for reintegration.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, working veterans across the board earn more than working nonveterans.

2. Overall, veterans are less than half as likely as nonvets to be imprisoned. And veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq are even better at staying on the right side of the law, according a study earlier this year:

Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn veterans were less than half as likely to be incarcerated as other veterans … This finding may reflect the increased attention and service supports provided to OEF/OIF/OND veterans by the VA and other organizations and is consistent with reports that the proportion of prisoners who are veterans has declined steadily over the past three decades.

All told, only 3.9% of the nation’s vets behind bars served in Afghanistan or Iraq.

3. Most likely you, or your children, didn’t have to fight, but the vets did … again and again. Today’s military consists of an all-volunteer force, while earlier generations had the draft to help the U.S. military fill the ranks. That means the most recent troops wanted to be in uniform. (The draft era’s U.S. military wasn’t as selective as the name Selective Service might make one think, and drugs, racial animosities and fragging — deliberate “friendly fire,” in other words — were among the predictable outcomes.)

Those repeated deployments meant many of the 2.5 million men and women who volunteered for duty in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 13 years have come home with problems of one kind or another. It’s a major reason why nearly half of post–9/11 vets are seeking some form of disability compensation, more than double the rate of 1991 Gulf War vets.

The nation’s notion of confining sacrifice to a few by recycling them back to war again and again is a stain on the nation’s psyche. But that’s not the vets’ fault. So, even as we acknowledge the improvements in the way the nation is welcoming its veterans back home, it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s the least we can do.