Inside Story: US 2012
Does the US do enough for its war veterans?
As suicide and homelessness rates soar, we ask who US soldiers will vote for in the November presidential election.
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2012 12:35

The coming US presidential election in November will be the first since 1944 when neither presidential candidate has served in the military.

"What active duty soldiers and our veterans want is a ... tested commander-in-chief."

- Major General Paul Eaton, a US army veteran

On Monday, Barack Obama addressed a leading veterans group while Mitt Romney will do so today.

In the 2008 election, John McCain, a decorated veteran, won the majority of the veteran vote over Obama. Exit polls showed that 15 per cent of all voters in 2008 had served in the military. Obama won 44 per cent of their votes, whereas McCain claimed 54 per cent.

And polls suggest that this time around most of the country's former soldiers will support Romney.

Under the Obama presidency, combat troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

However, US military veterans face challenges that include an increased risk of homelessness and suicide.

Veterans account for one-fourth to one-fifth of the entire homeless population in the US, which is roughly 130,000 veterans on any given night.

"You're in the army, you're in the marines, it's your life so it's a huge readjustment to come back to [the] civilian world ... even if they don't have any other issues beside the basic readjustment issue, it's a difficult time."

- Patrick Bellon, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense

They also make up 20 per cent of the 30,000 suicides in the US each year, according to the National Violent Death Reporting system. Latest figures suggest that 18 veterans kill themselves every day, while an estimated one soldier on active duty commits suicide each day.

Many veterans struggle with mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, while drug and alcohol abuse is common.

Some veterans say it is not easy for people trained as soldiers to ask for help. And while the US government says it aims to put a roof over every veteran's head by 2015, the challenge may be connecting these men and women to the services available to them.

So, does the US do enough for its war veterans?

Inside Story US2012, with presenter Anand Naidoo, discusses this with guests: Major General Paul Eaton, who has served in Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia and also served as an adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008; Aaron Glantz, an investigative journalist and author of The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans; and Patrick Bellon, the executive director of a group known as Veterans for Common Sense.

"Any job that I did get, I couldn't sustain just due to stress levels and PTSD-related (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms."

Justin Norton, US army veteran


  • Suicides now outnumber combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Suicides are at a 10-year high among active duty US troops
  • According to the Associated Press, there were 154 suicides among active duty troops in the first 155 days of 2012
  • The Veterans Administration (VA) has increased spending on mental health programme's to $5.9bn
  • A study has revealed that young veterans are four times more likely to commit suicide
  • Soldiers say there is a stigma against seeking help for mental difficulties
  • Twenty to 25 per cent of the US homeless population are military veterans
  • About half of homeless veterans served in the Vietnam war
  • Sixty-seven per cent of homeless veterans served three or more years on active duty
  • Eighty-nine per cent of homeless veterans received an honourable discharge
  • The VA says 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness
  • About 40 per cent of homeless veterans are not in shelters


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