The Fourth of July means picnics, fireworks, and parades of veterans marching down Main Street. But barring any major military conflicts, there will be fewer and fewer vets to salute in the coming decade. Annual veteran death rates are expected to increase 18 percent from 525,200 in 1996 to 620,000 in 2008. It's an aging group as well: The median age of a vet today is 56.5 years; in 2010, it will jump to 62.6 years, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The ranks of the oldest old-those 85 and over-will reach 1.26 million in 2010, a 720 percent rise from 1990.
Health care services for veterans continue to be a major budgetary concern. In 1980, medical programs for veterans cost the federal government $6 billion, while compensation and pension benefits totaled $11 billion. In fiscal year 1998, medical expenditures soared to $19 billion, a 216 percent increase from 1980 and just shy of the $20 billion currently spent on compensation and pensions.
California, Florida, and Texas are home to the largest numbers of veterans, but Maine claims the most as a percentage of its total adult population. Nearly 16 percent of all people 18 and over in Maine have served in the military. Utah ranks the lowest with 9.5 percent.
At 8 million, Vietnam-era vets comprise the biggest segment of this population and will continue to do so, even as their numbers dwindle to 7 million by 2010. In contrast, today there are 6.7 million World War II vets and 4.3 million from the Korean conflict. Expect more women and minorities to claim veteran status in the future. The V.A. expects the number of female vets to hit 1.3 million, or 6.4 percent of the total, within the next decade.
Veteran households today are twice as likely than average to be married, retired, and with no children at home, according to The Polk Company. In other words, they've got plenty of time on their hands. Roughly one-third enjoy tinkering in their home workshops, and a similar number say doting over their grandkids is a favorite pastime. Running after those toddlers is often the only exercise most veterans get. You might see them on a golf course or at a fishing hole, but many former soldiers prefer to watch sports on TV than break a sweat. They had enough of that in boot camp.