Summary of Findings
A year after the problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals made major news, the public remains highly critical of the government’s performance in supporting and caring for soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fully 72% say the government does not give enough support to soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is unchanged from March 2007. In addition, just 29% rate the government’s job of providing medical care for the returning troops as excellent or good, while 63% rate it as only fair or poor. These opinions about the medical care for returning troops also have changed little since last March.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 20-24 among 1,508 Americans, finds that opinions about the government’s handling of care for returning troops are divided along partisan lines, with Republicans less critical than Democrats of the government’s care of the troops. Nonetheless, 62% of Republicans say the government does not provide enough support for the returning troops, while just 32% say it does. Roughly three-quarters of Democrats (76%) and independents (74%) say the government does not do enough for soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the war in Iraq enters its sixth year, half of the public says the American people give enough support to soldiers, while 46% disagree. This is virtually the same as a year ago; in March 2007, 51% said Americans gave enough support, while 44% said they did not. Notably, there are no significant differences in opinion on this question by party or ideology.
Soldiers’ Families Views No Different
Just 5% of Americans say the government has done an excellent job in providing medical care for returning troops, while 24% say the care has been good. More than twice as many people rate the government’s medical care for the returning soldiers as either only fair (37%) or poor (26%).
Four-in-ten Republicans rate the government’s care for returning troops as excellent or good. That compares with 25% of independents and 24% of Democrats.
Notably, there are no differences in opinions about the government’s performance in caring for returning troops between those who say they have a close family member who has served in either Iraq or Afghanistan – 29% of the public – and those who do not. About three-in-ten (28%) of those with close family involved in the current wars say the government has done an excellent or good job of providing medical care to the soldiers, a view shared by 29% of those who are not so directly tied to the conflicts.
In rating the government’s overall support for returning military personnel, 22% of those with a close family member who has served in either conflict – and an identical percentage of those without a family tie to the troops – say the government has given enough support to the troops. In addition, half of those with close family who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan say the American people have given enough support to returning soldiers, the same as those who are not so directly linked to the wars.
Criticisms of Government’s Performance
People who say the government has not provided enough support for the returning troops offer detailed criticisms of where the government has fallen short. Nearly half (48%) specifically cite a medical concern as the kind of problem the government is doing too little about.
In addition, about a third (34%) cites a mental health issue, with 7% specifically mentioning depression and an additional 5% citing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. More than a quarter (27%) mention financial issues, including the difficulties that returning military personnel face in getting jobs and keeping their homes. Other issues, such as the need to support military families (5%) and the problems faced by disabled war veterans (3%) also are cited as issues on which the government has failed returning service members.