Lifelong Socioeconomic Challenges Faced by Combat Veterans

Recent research at Washington State University (WSU) suggests that, for many U.S. veterans, combat is a defining experience that often sets the trajectory of the balance of their lives.

Using data taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a longitudinal survey of families and individuals which has been conducted annually since 1968, Alair MacLean, an assistant professor with the Department of Sociology at WSU Vancouver, studied the characteristics of both veterans and non-veterans who would have been between the ages of 25 and 55 in any year between 1968 and 2003. The rate at which both non-veterans and non-combat veterans reported themselves to be disabled remained fairly consistent at roughly 10% of the population in each of the years reviewed by the study.

For the research published in the August 2010 issue of the American Sociological Review (ASR), MacLean’s sample included men who served or otherwise would have become eligible for military service during World War II, as well as during the Korean, post-Korean, Vietnam, and post-Vietnam eras, according to a press release.

She reported that in comparison to both non-veterans and veterans who never engaged in combat, Americans returning from combat face significant socioeconomic challenges, as evidenced by consistently higher rates of disability and unemployment.

“Veterans who saw combat started their work lives at a relative disadvantage that they were unable to overcome. Soldiers exposed to combat were more likely than non-combat veterans to be disabled and unemployed in their mid-20s and to remain so throughout their work life,” MacLean stated in the release. “Compared with these two groups of men, combat veterans were disabled at relatively high rates. In most survey years, they were more likely than non-veterans to be disabled. In all survey years, they were more likely than non-combat veterans to be disabled.”

Additionally, MacLean found that combat veterans were more likely than the other groups to become disabled over time.

“In 1968, slightly over 10% (of combat veterans) were disabled. This increased to over 20% in 2003,” she stated.

And while combat veterans tended to be employed in the initial years of the surveyed period at higher rates than the other two groups, MacLean said they reported significantly higher levels of unemployment than both non-veterans and non-combat veterans in most years after 1975.

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