Approximately seven percent of the United States population are military veterans. People who serve in the armed forces may require specialized health care treatment due to their experiences in the military. Here are five things you might not know about health care for veterans.
1. Most veterans don’t take advantage of Veterans Affairs (VA) services for health care and of those that do, many only visit for certain covered conditions.
As of August 2023, a little less than half of the 18 million United States military veterans were enrolled for VA services, and about one-third visited a VA facility within the last year. Many vets only take advantage of VA services for a single covered condition, such as care of an amputated limb or treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
2. There are more female veterans than ever – and they are serving in active combat roles more commonly than in the past.
The percentage of female veterans has been climbing steadily in recent years, is currently about 11 percent, and is projected to continue to increase.
Beyond general differences in care of females compared to males, there are some specific concerns for female veterans. For example, female veterans are more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault compared to male veterans. Female veterans deployed overseas are also more likely to experience sexual trauma than veterans who were not deployed.
3. Gulf War veterans are the largest current group of vets, and their unique concerns include higher rates of survival after significant battle trauma as well as burn pit exposures.
About eight million of the current veteran population served during the Gulf War period, and the largest proportion of the remaining 10 million vets served during the Vietnam war era. The overall veteran population is projected to significantly decrease in the next 10-20 years, although many Gulf War veterans have had more sustained service due to the current all-volunteer nature of the U.S. military.
4. Toxic exposures don’t just cause cancers.
Hazardous exposures including Agent Orange and Camp Lejeune can result in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson disease. Burn pit exposures are also associated with a wide variety of chronic sinus and pulmonary conditions.
The PACT Act has provided a fast track for veterans to enroll for benefits related to burn pit exposure and expanded the presumptive diseases covered from Agent Orange exposure, which now include conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain other conditions such as amyloidosis.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask about military history.
Veterans are a heterogenous population, and taking a history about service-related concerns should be individualized and open-ended. Ask about a veteran’s history of overseas deployment, military occupation, service-related disabilities, and exposure to trauma and hazardous conditions.
Consider that even non-combat veterans have had exposures to a surprising variety of environmental conditions and recognize that there is a legitimate clinical reason for you to know about their past. If they don’t want to discuss specific aspects, respect that as well.
Statistics can be found at National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics and information about exposure eligibility is available from the VA.