A new graphic meant to help lawmakers allocate resources predicts what states Vietnam, Gulf War, Post-Gulf and Post-9/11 era veterans will be living in every year until 2045, a D.C. think tank announced Friday.
Rebecca Burgess, an American Enterprise Institute expert on veterans, said a national discussion earlier this year about expanding the Department of Veterans Affairs' health benefits prompted her to question how geography and demographics affect perceptions from the public and politicians about veterans.
But she found it's difficult to find good data on where veterans live or predict future residences.
"In fact, the more one tries to piece together a clear picture of veteran demographics, the less coherent the data seem to be," Burgess wrote in her study. "States, counties, and the federal government seem to arrive at different outcomes in terms of veteran numbers, even using the same projection model, VetPop 2016."
VetPop 2016, or "Veterans Population Projection Model 2016," is data from the VA to be used by the agency and other groups like Congress for policy planning and budgeting.
Burgess said she compared the VA's data to other sources, like the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, and found the actuarial projections did not always agree. She added that the VA's core data about veterans is nearly 20 years old and the Census Bureau stopped collecting veteran status data with the 2010 census.
A Census Bureau spokeswoman said data on veterans is still being collected since the 2000 census as a question asked annually in the ACS report, which Burgess used to make her findings.
Visualizing where veterans will be over the next three decades will provide at least two benefits, she said.
"It delivers the best sense of where VA resources will most be needed in the future," Burgess wrote, "and in the process may also reveal which congressional districts might witness veteran policies becoming an electoral issue in the near future."
While the VA has already estimated the overall veteran population will decrease almost 40% in a quarter of a century, Burgess's bar charts show geographic population shifts grouped by states and counties from 2015 to 2045.
For example, her interactive charts show in 25 years the majority of Vietnam War era veterans will be found in Florida, and then Texas, with California ranked third. Younger veterans from the Post-9/11 era are predicted to prefer Texas the most, with California ranked second and Florida third.
Burgess concluded her report with a push for better data taking around veterans.
"As a first step toward acquiring better data, Congress should require all future US Censuses to include such questions," she wrote. "Secondly, VA should develop an updated veteran population projection model, whether or not the Census includes such questions."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with information from the Census Bureau.
-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.