Use of VA Benefits and Services: 2021

Part 2 - Comparison of Users and Non-Users

To promote awareness of basic characteristics of the Veteran population being served by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the benefits and services provided, the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics (NCVAS) conducted a study on Veterans who have used at least one of 22 benefits or services (referred to as "users") provided by VA during Fiscal Years 2010 through 2021. Part 1 of this report presents basic characteristics of the VA user population and the benefits and services used. This report, Part 2 compares the Veteran user population to Veterans who have not used any VA benefits or services. Part 3 presents more detailed information on the two largest VA programs, Health Care and Disability Compensation.
Key questions addressed in Part 2:
  • How has the level of overall use of Veterans benefits changed over time?
  • How does the rate of use vary by Veteran age and era of military service for males and females?
Key findings:
  • The number of Veterans relying on VA programs has increased since FY 2010 despite a decreasing Veteran population.
  • Older male Veterans are more reliant on VA programs than their younger counterparts, whereas the reverse is true for the female Veteran population.
  • Male Veterans whose era of initial military service was characterized by a high casualty rate (i.e., World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam and Post-9/11 Eras) are more reliant on VA programs. Female Veterans who initially served in the Post-9/11 Gulf War are more reliant on VA programs than those who initially served in the Vietnam, Pre-9/11, and Peacetime Only eras.

Trend in Veteran Use

The number of Veterans using VA benefits is increasing despite a decline in the total Veteran population since FY 2010, when 8.8 million (38.1%) out of 23.0 million were users. By FY 2021 the number had increased to 9.8 million (51.5%) of 19.0 million Veterans, an increase of 13.4 percentage points. FY 2020 was the first year that the majority (51.3%) of Veterans used VA benefits.

Use by Age Group and Sex

The following figure illustrates how the male Veteran user population (dark blue) and non-user population (light blue) were distributed by age group in FY 2021. The majority of male Veterans are over the age of 55. The most notable difference between male users and non-users is seen for the age group 55-64. The largest cohort of male Veteran users is between ages 65 and 74 years while the largest cohort of male non-users are ages 55-64.
While the shape of the age distributions of male users and non-users are roughly similar, there is a noticeable difference. The user population is older. While the non-user population percentage peaks at 55-64 years, the user population percentage jumps dramatically between the 55-64 age group and the 65-74 age group and remains higher than that of the non-user population thereafter.
It is a different story for the female user and non-user populations. As we saw in Part 1, the female Veteran population overall is younger than the male population. This can be seen by comparing the shapes of the distributions in the male chart above with the female chart below.
As with the male population, the shapes of the distributions of female users (dark green) and non-users (light green) are similar but not identical. The largest cohort of female users are ages 35-44 years while the largest cohort of female non-users are ages 55-64 years. 
These two charts suggest that younger Veteran females are more reliant on VA programs than their male counterparts, while the reverse is true for older Veterans.

Use by Era of Service and Sex

Additional insight can be gained by observing user and non-user data through the lens of era of initial military service. In Part 1 we saw that male users of one or more VA programs were mostly from the Vietnam and Post-9/11 eras, while over half of female users initially served in the Post-9/11 era. This same difference in the sexes is mirrored in the two charts of initial service era, below.
The percentage of male users (dark blue) is larger than non-users (light blue) in eras characterized by substantial casualties, including World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam and Post-9/11 Eras. Non-users are more prevalent in the two eras with lower casualty rates, Pre-9/11 Gulf War and Peacetime Only (1).
Results for female Veterans differ slightly. The percentage of female users (dark green) is comparable to non-users (light green) for World War II and the Korean Conflict. Female users are more prevalent in the Post-9/11 Gulf War while non-users have a higher percentage in the Vietnam, Pre-9/11, and Peacetime Only eras.
Return to the Introduction, or view Parts 1 and 3.
See the Appendix for information on the administration of VA services, the data source used for this report, and the methodologies and assumptions.

1.  Eras of military service with high casualty rates include World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Era, and the Post-9/11 Gulf War. See VA's America's Wars fact sheet for casualty statistics of conflicts that have ended. See the Defense Casualty Analysis System for statistics of ongoing conflicts.

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Title photo by 143d ESC licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0.