The Department of Veterans Affairs has likely crossed a sobering milestone with over one million veterans receiving care for wounds, injuries or illnesses related to their service.
The milestone comes 12 years after the attacks of 9/11 that launched the country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also comes as advances in medicine are keeping more veterans alive and creating awareness around previously ignored symptoms such as post-traumatic stress.
The million-vet figure is based on the last quarterly report on Iraq and Afghan vets published by the VA, which put the number at just over 900,000 as of December 2012. Coupled with data crunched by the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates claiming the numbers were rising by 10,000 a month, it is likely the VA hit the one million mark last month -- if not sooner.
VA officials did not respond by press time to Military.com's request for confirmation. The Iraq and Afghan wars' milestone was first reported by International Business Times.
Until March, when the VA released the data from the previous December, the department published the numbers in quarterly health utilization reports for Iraq and Afghan vets. To date, it has released no such information for 2013, but plans to do so.
"Some VA reports on OIF/OEF veterans have been delayed while enhanced data security measures were implemented," VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in an email to Military.com. "Those measures are complete, and we anticipate releasing the next OEF/OIF/OND healthcare utilization report within the next few weeks."
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who has frequently criticized the VA for failing to provide information on a wide range of issues, said he is glad the reports will be resumed but is demanding to know more about the decision to halt them.
"Although I am pleased with VA's decision to resume its reports on OEF, OIF and [Operation New Dawn] veterans, the timing of VA's announcement is quite curious," Miller said in an email to Military.com. "We have asked VA to explain exactly what security concerns led to its decision to discontinue the reports in the first place, and I am hopeful department leaders will take this opportunity to detail the precise reasons why they halted the reports."
As of the end of 2012, more than 1.6 million former active-duty, Reserve and National Guard troops had become eligible for VA healthcare, of which about 900,000 had entered the system, according to the VA’s March report.
The majority of the 900,000, about 837,000, have been seen as outpatients by the VA, and nearly 63,000 hospitalized at least once in a VA healthcare facility, the report states.