As the U.S. celebrates its veterans this weekend, holding parades, illuminating buildings and laying wreaths to honor those who served, the population it celebrates is changing, as the number of World War II, Korean War and even Vietnam War veterans dwindles.
A new report from the Pew Research Center notes that those who have served since the first Persian Gulf War now make up 43% of America's 18 million veterans, or 7.8 million people. The group eclipsed veterans from the Vietnam era in 2016; Vietnam vets today make up just 30%, or 5.6 million, of the veteran population.
Fewer than 4% are from the Korean War era, and 119,550 remain from World War II, shy of 1% of the population.
With the shifting demographics, more women, Hispanic and Black adults, as well as those under age 50, will make up larger portions of the population in the coming years. The share of female veterans is expected to be about 18% of veterans by 2048, while Hispanic and Black persons each will be about 15% of the population, up from 9% and 13% respectively.
About 28% of today's veterans are younger than 50. In 25 years, those in that age bracket are expected to make up 34% of the veteran population, according to the report
The changes come as the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have made commitments to broaden diversity and better serve veterans across all demographics in an effort to better serve their populations and retain service members.
Earlier this year, the White House ordered the Cabinet departments to establish teams to ensure that agencies adhere to equity initiatives and outcomes that benefit all employees and customers. The VA's equity team is aimed specifically at working to ensure that minority veterans who receive health care or apply for benefits receive equal treatment under the law.
The focus was based in part as a result of a lawsuit by a Black Marine veteran, Conley Monk Jr., who alleges the agency denied claims from Black veterans at higher rates than whites.
The Pentagon launched a number of initiatives this year to accommodate its changing force in efforts to retain personnel and adapt to a new demographic of active-duty personnel who are largely younger, married and female.
The Defense Department has lengthened parental leave, instituted and expanded child care programs to make it easier for families to serve, increased pay, and adopted new programs to provide for lower-income personnel.
"Our service members and veterans chose to put service before self," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement released Friday. "To all our troops, veterans, and military families on this Veterans Day: Thank you for all that you have given to keep America safe. You have our deepest gratitude and our everlasting commitment."
"Today, we reflect on what veterans and their families have done, what they've sacrificed for our country and for each of us, because here's the thing: When someone signs up to serve our country in the military, we make them a promise -- if you fight for us, we will fight for you. If you serve us, we will serve you. If you take care of us, when you come home, we'll take care of you," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a speech Monday.
The VA announced a number of initiatives Friday to improve health care and services for veterans, including a new ad campaign aimed at attracting more veterans to VA health care services and encouraging them to apply for benefits.
As part of the announcements, the VA extended free health care and nursing care to all World War II veterans who aren't already receiving services from the VA, about 10,000 former troops.
It also announced that it would cover the cost of medical care for family members diagnosed with Parkinson's disease who lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987. VA officials told Military.com on Friday that 72 family members have submitted claims for the illness.
"There could be additional family members living with Parkinson's, and we will be working to reach those individuals to provide them with cost reimbursement under this program," VA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Adam Farina said.
The risk of Parkinson's is 70% higher for veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune during that period.
Meanwhile, across the country, America will celebrate its veterans in unique ways. Here are a handful of events that will mark the 70th National Veterans Day:
Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery
The U.S. Air Force Band and Air Force Chanters will play before the ceremony beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater, followed by the formal event at 11 a.m., with a wreath laying and speeches by President Joe Biden and McDonough. The ceremony will be broadcast on C-SPAN.
Operation Green Light for Veterans
Across the country, residents may notice that local buildings and landmarks are lit up in green to honor veterans. An effort by the National Association of Counties and the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, the event is an effort to "show support and gratitude for the immeasurable sacrifices our veterans have made," National Association of Counties President Mary Jo McGuire said in a statement. In 2022, roughly 300 counties participated. This year, the effort's partner, Amazon, will light up buildings across the country, as well as itsr headquarters in King County, Washington, and Arlington, Virginia.
Not to be outdone, the Empire State Building in New York City also will be lit on Veterans Day, bathed in red, white and blue and topped with a gold antenna. Roughly 750 veterans and family members with the Wounded Warrior Project will participate in the lighting ceremony at the building and then march in the parade Saturday, where retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, who serves as chief executive officer of Wounded Warrior Project, will be grand marshal.
Veterans Legacy Memorial
This Veterans Day, the National Cemetery Administration is encouraging Americans to visit its online memorial site, which now includes pages for nearly 10 million veterans, some dating as far back as the Revolutionary War.
Each memorial page includes a veteran's dates of birth and death, dates or eras of military service, grave location and photo of grave, as available. The site is fully interactive, allowing family members, friends and colleagues to share photos, documents and memories.
Parades and Ceremonies
Celebrations and memorials are being held across the country. For a look at what may be happening in your state, check out Military.com's list here.
Deals and Discounts
Thousands of businesses across the country give thanks to those who serve each year. Find out what is available to those of you with a retired ID card or a DD-214 here.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on X @patriciakime.