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Even though the number of rural veterans who served in the post 9/11 military more than doubled in the past decade, the overall veteran population in rural America is on the decline – just as it is in metropolitan America.
In observance of Veterans Day (November 11, which is Saturday), the Economic Research Service of USDA released an updated version of their rural veterans report.
The chart shows the overall decline in the size of the rural veteran population, primarily from the loss of previous generations of veterans. It also shows how men and women who served after 9/11 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations are becoming an increasing share of the overall rural veteran population.
From 2006 to 2016 the number of post 9/11 rural veterans grew from about 200,000 to 400,000, according to the ERS, which used Census data in its report. During the same period, the number of rural veterans who served before the 2001 terrorist attacks declined by about 1.4 million, or roughly 25 percent. The current number of veterans who live in rural America is 3.2 million.
Nearly nine out of every 10 rural veterans served before 2001, the start of the 9/11 era.
The aging of American veterans is not just a rural phenomenon, but it does have special resonance in rural areas, since rural men and women are a disproportionate share of today’s active military. (A 2013 report says about 19 percent of the military came from rural areas while only 16 percent of the U.S. population was rural.)
While the number of post 9/11 veterans is growing, they are still a small proportion of the overall veteran population. In 2015 there were 1.5 million veterans across the U.S. from the post 9/11 era. Vietnam-era veterans numbered more than four times that amount — nearly 7 million nationally in 2015. That generation of military veterans is aging and accounts for some of the decline in total rural veterans population. A veteran who served in the early phases of U.S. escalation in Vietnam is now at least 70 years. A veteran who enlisted at age 18 and served in the first year of the Korean War (1950) is now 85.
More information on veterans in rural America (including their potential economic impact) is available in the 2013 ERS publication Rural Veterans at a Glance.
The Census also has extensive information on the U.S. veterans population.