As readers of this blog are aware, I have great fondness for veterans. I’m one myself, and I honor those willing to put their lives on the line for the good of the country. As we who have served in the military die off, the proportion of veterans in the population is growing smaller.
As I reported earlier, in 2016, 7 percent of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. Expressed differently, almost half of the Americans 75 or older are veterans; only 3.48 percent of those between 35 and 44 are. We are close to becoming a dying breed.
The draft ended in 1973. That change brought about a sharp decline in the number of young men and women who enlisted. So many, like me, joined voluntarily so we could choose the work we’d do in the service instead of being drafted and automatically assigned to the infantry or its equivalent. From 1973 on, that incentive was gone. Consequently, the veteran population declined.
A fact that haunts me is the number of veterans who choose to take their own lives. According to Department of Veterans Affairs data, more than 6,000 veterans killed themselves annually from 2008 to 2016. And a recent analysis found a suicide rate among veterans of about 30 per 100,000 population per year, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000.
Why? I think I know. When a man or woman has volunteered to risk death in defense of the country and has been close to or lived through combat, the memories of savage conflict can become unbearable. I know from personal experience. The recollections never weaken or go away. They can cause panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and irrational rages. For some, death is preferable to enduring those intolerable episodes.