This Veterans Day, Americans across the country will honor the service and sacrifice of U.S. military veterans. A recent Pew Research Center survey of veterans found that, for many who served in combat, their experiences strengthened them personally but also made the transition to civilian life difficult.
Here are key facts about veterans, drawn from that survey:
1 The experiences of post-9/11 veterans differ from those who served in previous eras. About one-in-five veterans today served on active duty after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. These post-9/11 veterans are more likely to have been deployed and to have served in combat, giving them a distinct set of experiences compared with those who served in previous eras.
Post-9/11 veterans are also more likely than their predecessors to bear some of the physical and psychological scars of combat. Roughly half (47%) of post-9/11 veterans say they had emotionally traumatic or distressing experiences related to their military service, compared with one-quarter of pre-9/11 veterans. About a third (35%) of post-9/11 veterans say they sought professional help to deal with those experiences, and a similar share say that – regardless of whether they have sought help – they think they have suffered from post-traumatic stress (PTS).
2 A majority of veterans say they have felt proud of their service since leaving the military. Roughly two-thirds of all veterans (68%) say, in the first few years after leaving the military, they frequently felt proud of their military service. An additional 22% say they sometimes felt proud, and 9% say they seldom or never felt this way. Pre-9/11 veterans are more likely to say they frequently felt proud of their service than are post-9/11 veterans (70% vs. 58%).
Most veterans say they would endorse the military as a career choice. Roughly eight-in-ten (79%) say they would advise a young person close to them to join the military. This includes large majorities of post-9/11 veterans, combat veterans and those who say they had emotionally traumatic experiences in the military.
3 More veterans say the military did a good job preparing them for life in the service than it did in readying them for the transition to civilian life. Veterans across eras offer similarly positive evaluations of the job the military did preparing them for military life, but less so when it comes to the return to civilian life. Roughly nine-in-ten veterans (91%) say the training they received when they first entered the military prepared them very or somewhat well for military life. By contrast, about half (52%) say the military prepared them very or somewhat well for the transition to civilian life.
4 About half of post-9/11 veterans say readjusting to civilian life was difficult. While about three-quarters of all veterans (73%) say readjusting to civilian life was very or somewhat easy, roughly one-in-four (26%) say it was at least somewhat difficult. There is a significant gap between pre- and post-9/11 veterans in this regard. About half of post-9/11 veterans (47%) say it was very or somewhat difficult for them to readjust to civilian life after their military service. By comparison, only about one-in-five veterans whose service ended before 9/11 (21%) say their transition was very or somewhat difficult. A large majority of pre-9/11 veterans (78%) say it was easy for them to make the transition.
5 For many veterans, the imprints of war are felt beyond their tour of duty. The challenges some veterans face during the transition to civilian life can be financial, emotional and professional. About a third of veterans (35%) say they had trouble paying their bills in their first few years after leaving the military, and roughly three-in-ten (28%) say they received unemployment compensation. One-in-five say they struggled with alcohol or substance abuse.
Veterans who say they have suffered from PTS are much more likely to report experiencing these things than those who did not. Roughly six-in-ten (61%) say they had trouble paying their bills, about four-in-ten (42%) say they had trouble getting medical care for themselves or their families, and a similar share (41%) say they struggled with alcohol or substance abuse.
6 When it comes to employment, a majority of veterans say their military service was useful in giving them the skills and training they needed for a civilian job. About one-in-three veterans (29%) say it was very useful, and another 29% say it was fairly useful. There are significant differences by rank: While 78% of veterans who served as commissioned officers say their military service was useful, smaller shares of those who were noncommissioned officers (59%) or enlisted (54%) say the same.
Most post-9/11 veterans say having served in the military was an advantage when it came to finding their first post-military job – 35% say this helped a lot and 26% say it helped a little. Only about one-in-ten (9%) say having served in the military hurt their ability to get a job. Among veterans who looked for a job after leaving the military, 57% say they found one in less than six months, and an additional 21% say they had a job in less than a year.
7 Veterans give the VA mixed reviews. Most veterans (73%) say they have received benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. When asked to assess the job the VA is doing in meeting the needs of veterans, fewer than half (46%) of all veterans say the VA is doing an excellent or good job in this regard.
More broadly, 64% of veterans say the government has given them about as much help as it should have. Three-in-ten say the government has given them too little help. Post-9/11 veterans are more likely than those from previous eras to say the government has given them less help than it should have (43% vs. 27%).
8 Majorities of veterans say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting. Additional findings from the same survey show that about two-thirds of veterans (64%) say they think the war in Iraq was not worth fighting considering the costs versus the benefits to the United States, while 33% say it was. Similarly, a majority of veterans (58%) say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting. About four-in-ten (38%) say it was worth fighting.
Views differ significantly by party. Republican and Republican-leaning veterans are much more likely than veterans who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party to say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were worth fighting: 45% of Republican veterans vs. 15% of Democratic veterans say the war in Iraq was worth fighting, while 46% of Republican veterans and 26% of Democratic veterans say the same about Afghanistan.
Views on U.S. military engagement in Syria are also more negative than positive. Among veterans, 42% say the campaign in Syria has been worth it, while 55% say it has not. (The survey was conducted entirely before President Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from parts of Syria.)
9 A majority of Americans and veterans associate discipline and patriotism with veterans. Majorities among veterans (61%) and the general public (64%) say most Americans look up to people who have served in the military. And veterans see themselves as more disciplined (84%) and patriotic (71%) than those who have not served in the military. Most Americans agree with this: 67% of all adults say being disciplined better describes veterans than non-veterans, and 59% say the same about being patriotic.
About a third or more among veterans and the public say veterans are more hard-working than those who haven’t served. Still, when it comes to things like being tolerant and open to all groups, the public is less likely to see this as a trait associated with military service than veterans are themselves.