Saturday, November 11, 2017

"To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan...
Abraham Lincoln included those words in his second inaugural address and they guide us still today as we strive to care for veterans and their families. The sacrifices those in uniform make are many and it's an honor as a country, a state, and individuals to care for those who have borne the battle. 

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have been supported by over two million deployments, with 40% of deployed members serving on multiple deployments. National Guard and Reserve units have played a huge role in these conflicts, with longer and more frequent deployments than during World War II. Indiana members have been those deployed and are represented in all branches of active military. Today, Veterans Day, we recognize the enormous sacrifices made by those who served in uniform and examine the climate for veterans and their families in Indiana and across the nation. Who are our veterans and how are they faring? 

Who are Indiana Veterans?

For use in state programs for veterans, Indiana defines “Hoosier veteran” or veteran as someone who (1) is a resident of Indiana; (2) served in a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States or the Indiana National Guard; and (3) completed any required military occupational specialty training and was not discharged or separated from the armed forces or the Indiana National Guard under dishonorable or other than honorable conditions.

However, the Federal government defines veteran differently. A “veteran is a person who served in the active military, naval or air service, and was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. This definition often leaves out Guard and Reserve members who have served for years, even retiring from service, without the requisite 180 consecutive days as active duty. While Indiana has taken steps to include Guard members, those individuals may not be eligible for many Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits including health care and mental health resources. 

How are they faring?

Figure 1, IIWF analysis of ACS Census data
Age - According to the American Community Survey (ACS)1, almost three quarters of veterans in Indiana are 55 and older (see Figure 1). These veterans may be dealing with service related trauma or disability, but are also facing the challenges of aging. Veterans 65 and older may be eligible for certain VA benefits to address the variety of health risks and financial challenges. 
Younger veterans have challenges all their own, including trauma and fatigue from recent deployments and service, but also reintegration, navigating the VA to get their GI Benefits, and transitioning into the civilian workforce. The ability to overcome these challenges depends on the resources veterans have, whether from family, community organizations, or help from the military and veterans’ organizations. 

Figure 2, IIWF analysis of ACS Census data
Education - The GI Bill is a godsend, and the Department of Defense knows it. It is a way to honor time in uniform, but mainly it is a way to recruit and reenlist members who know it will be there for them or their family members when they get out. Military members may join after high school or a year of college knowing if they serve long enough, they can finish their degree or go to school after their enlistment. Most of Indiana’s veterans have a high school degree or some college.

Figure 3, IIWF analysis of ACS Census data
An interesting trend is the increase in the percentage of Indiana veterans with some college/associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. Over the past decade, veterans have been seeking higher education or those with higher education have decided to settle here.

A review of post-secondary education in Indiana was done to determine how effective institutions were at incorporating veteran and service members into their campuses. The study looked at things like awarding credit for experience or military courses, tuition reimbursement and coursework extension if a member needs to leave mid-semester, and the availability of a student veterans’ organization or designated office for military members and veteran and found that Indiana has much room for improvement. Only one-third of the 77 institutions who responded to the study offered all the supports identified by the researchers. Veterans and military members are typically non-traditional students and need specific supports; if institutions can meet those needs, they will have a more robust student body and provide Indiana the skilled workforce it needs to meet job demands.

Income and Poverty - The United States spends more on the military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the UK, Japan, and Germany combined, yet there are still military families and veterans who struggle with hunger, homelessness, and poverty. 

Figure 4, IIWF analysis of ACS Census data
Let’s start with the positive – veterans in Indiana face poverty at lower rates than non-veterans. (See Figure 4) However, the decline has stagnated and is still not back to the level it was before the recession. The income and poverty rates of veterans largely track those in the general population, so statewide efforts to raise incomes and reduce poverty will improve the status of veterans as well. 

Figure 5, IIWF analysis of ACS Census data
According to the ACS 1-Year estimates from 2007-2016, male and female veterans earned more than their civilian counterparts, female veterans especially. Veterans are coming into the job market with desirable skills, which their earnings reflect; however, in 2015, 85,262 out of Indiana’s 383,222 veterans – 22 percent - were living paycheck to paycheck, defined as living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). 

According to a new report released by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on average from 2014-2016, an estimated 28,000 veterans, or 7 percent of Indiana veterans, received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  This means those households were at 130 percent of poverty based on household size and gross monthly income or had an elderly family member or family member with a disability. 

Homelessness - Each year, states do a Point In Time (PIT) count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. Based on these numbers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that in 2016, 663 veterans were homeless. This is a 16 percent decrease from 2015 when the estimate was 790 homeless veterans. 

There are many trying to combat this issue, pun not intended, including non-profits like Hoosier Veterans Assistance Program and Volunteers of America (Indiana); advocacy organization like The Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana, of which the Institute is a member; as well state and federal agencies like the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA.

Healthcare/Suicide – The VA conducted a comprehensive analysis of veteran suicide rates in the US. The veteran suicide rate in 2014 in Indiana was 33.3 per 100,000. Though this is lower than the national veteran suicide rate of 38.4, it is still too high a number.  In contrast to the veteran population, Indiana’s 2016 suicide rate per 100,000 was 14.3.  

Lawmakers have taken notice of this issue and have put an effort into reaching veterans before they reach the point of suicidality. Indiana Congressman Jim Banks introduced a bill to evaluate the veteran crisis line (VCL) to see how effective it is at preventing suicide of military members and veterans. Senator Joe Donnelly has been active in legislation addressing mental health needs of military members and veterans. His Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package ("Care Package") was passed with the intent of improving mental health outcomes for service members. Recognizing the unique mental health needs of veterans and addressing them head on will help us keep more of them alive and well.

Going forward

Indiana has room for improvement when it comes to being the best place for veterans to call home, but there are groups doing great work to support those who have protected and defended us. Remember today, and any day, to thank the veterans you know.  They have served us well – now it’s our turn.

More resources for Indiana veterans can be found at Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) website
     1. Data is mostly from U.S. Census Bureau’s  American Community Survey (ACS), “a nationwide survey that collects and produces information on demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics about our nation's population every year.” Over 3.5 million households are contacted to fill out this survey, which guides policy, community development, and research. Other sources are hyperlinked.

It is with great pride and respect that I take up this policy area for the Institute. My husband served in the Navy for seven and a half years, so improving the well-being of veterans and military families in Indiana is personal and professional. Happy to be your contact for these issues - and 317-638-4232. 

If you want to donate to the Indiana Institute for Working Families so we can continue doing this good work, click here.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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