There are more than 18 million veterans living in the United States, according to the most recent figures from the national census, while a new graphic from the American Enterprise Institute indicates that most of them live in one of three states in the top 15.
Depending on where they live, however, they may be getting varying levels of support.
The AEI chart shows the projected veteran population projections by the top 15 states between the current year and 2045, split up into the wars in which the veterans served. The data is based on the trajectory of current veteran populations in each state, and adjusted for the average lifespan for veterans of wars dating back to Vietnam.
The chart for Vietnam war veterans, for example, shows a majority of veterans lived in California, Florida and Texas jn 2015, but dwindling numbers by 2045, as many would have passed on by then. In comparison, the chart for Post-9/11 wars shows a continued increase in veteran populations in those same states, along with Vermont, North Carolina, and Georgia.
“The numbers of Vietnam-era veterans in general will decrease at an increasing pace as we approach 2045, due to the inevitability of aging and mortality,” states the American Enterprise Institute website. “But unlike the general shifts in the veteran population, which sees most veterans in the South and West, high numbers of Vietnam-era veterans still live in the Northeast and Midwest, especially compared to the West. Already with the Gulf War and post–Gulf War veterans, we see higher numbers in the Southeast, but a fair amount (in the 240,000–300,000 range) live in such disparate states as Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Post-9/11 veterans are flocking to Texas, but also congregating in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington State.”
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American Enterprise Institute expert on veterans Rebecca Burgess has been looking into how geography and demographics affect the public perception of veterans. Her determination was that predicting the population shifts of veterans was a challenging prospect.
“In fact, the more one tries to piece together a clear picture of veteran demographics, the less coherent the data seem to be,” she wrote in the resulting study. “States, counties, and the federal government seem to arrive at different outcomes in terms of veteran numbers, even using the same projection model, VetPop 2016.”
According to Military.com, VetPop 2016, short for “Veterans Population Projection Model 2016,” comprises the VA data used in policy planning and budgeting at the federal level. However, Burgess maintains that parts of this collection of data is decades old, as the census stopped collecting veteran data in 2010, if not contradicted buy other studies like the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
The data visualization hosted by AEI makes it easier to see where veterans will be over the next few decades, and where support services should be allocated.
“It delivers the best sense of where VA resources will most be needed in the future,” Burgess wrote, “and in the process may also reveal which congressional districts might witness veteran policies becoming an electoral issue in the near future.”
Of course, a few more questions on the national census could enlighten researchers even more. Burgess wants to see those questions asked, for the sake of the veterans.
“As a first step toward acquiring better data, Congress should require all future US Censuses to include such questions,” she wrote. “Secondly, VA should develop an updated veteran population projection model, whether or not the Census includes such questions.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.