Use of VA Benefits and Services: 2021

Part 1 - Characteristics of Those Served by VA


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 trends in their use of benefits and services. 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 1:
  • How many Veterans used VA benefits or services?
  • Which programs did Veterans use most?
  • What were the demographic characteristics of VA users?
  • How have patterns of use changed over time?
Key findings:
  • Approximately 52% (9.8 out of 19.0 million) of all Veterans used at least one VA benefit or service in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, an increase of over 13 percentage points (38% or 8.8 out of 23.0 million) since FY 2010. Of those 9.8 million users, 51% used multiple benefits which is up from 36% in 2010.
  • More Veterans (6.2 million) used VA Health Care than any other program in FY 2021. However, 7.6 million Veterans used one or more Veteran Benefits Administration (VBA) benefits and services.
  • The increase in the percentage of Veterans using VA benefits between FY 2010 and 2021 was similar for females and males. The respective percentages were 35% and 49% for females compared to 38% and 52% for males.
  • In FY 2021 there was a 15-year difference in the median age of male and female Veterans who used at least one VA benefit. The male median was 64 years; the female median was 49.
  • In FY 2021, over half of male users first served during the Vietnam and Post-9/11 Gulf War eras (31.6% and 31.7% respectively), while the majority of female users (56.3%) first served in the Post-9/11 Gulf War era.
  • The two smallest race groups had the highest and lowest rates of use in FY 2021. The highest rate of use was among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (60.8%), while the lowest rate was among American Indians and Alaskan Natives (45.1%).

Overview of Usage - FY 2021

In FY 2021 there were approximately 19.0 million living Veterans, of which 9.8 million (52%) used at least one VA benefit or service in that year alone.
This chart shows how many Veterans used each program. About 7.6 million Veterans used at least one benefit provided by VBA(1). The VBA programs are shown in red.
Veterans who used multiple programs (51% of the 9.8 million users) are counted in each program used. Thus, the program counts do not sum up to the overall total.
NOTE: Some VA programs serve Veterans' family members and caregivers. Only data for Veterans are used in this report.

Trends in Program Usage

Health Care and Disability Compensation/Pension account for the majority of VA usage and have shown significant growth since 2010. The largest program, Health Care, has increased by 16% over the twelve-year span, while Disability Compensation and Pension has increased by 53%.
Additional observations:
  • In FY 2010 36% of users used multiple benefits. Multiple benefits users increased to 51% by FY 2021.
  • Overall, the number of active VA Life Insurance policies has declined from FY 2010 to 2021, with small increases in 2013, 2015, and 2020. 
  • The Home Loan Guaranty program has seen a steady increase in active home loans guaranteed.
  • Education benefit use among Veterans has shown variable growth, with a sharp increase in 2012 and another smaller increase in 2018.
  • Usage rates for Memorial benefits have remained steady. The number of Vocational Rehabilitation users has been consistent over the years with a small decrease in FY 2021.

How Have Trends in Usage Differed by Sex?

Both sexes have increased their level of usage of VA programs. This table shows the number of users of one or more programs for each sex by fiscal year.
The increase in the number of female users has been particularly noteworthy. While the female Veteran population increased by 11.3% since 2010, the number of female Veterans using at least one VA program increased by 53.3%, from approximately 646,000 to 989,000.
Additional observations:
  • The usage rate of VA benefits among female Veterans increased from 35% in FY 2010 to 49% in 2021. The corresponding rates among male Veterans in FY 2010 and FY 2021 were 38% and 52%, respectively.
  • Female Veterans represented 7.4% of all users in 2010. This increased to 10.1% in 2021.

Age Distribution of Users by Sex

Female users of VA programs and benefits tend to be younger than male users. The median age of female users was 49 compared to the male median of 64. This is reflected in the following chart, which shows that in FY 2021 female users tended to be in the younger age categories (25-54) while males tended to be in the older categories (55 and older). This mostly reflects that the male Veteran population is older in general, and that females are entering, and leaving, the military in greater numbers than in the past.

Usage within Age Groups by Sex

The similarities in sex use rate in one or more VA programs becomes clearer when rates within age groups are considered. However, in the older age groups, 75 to 84 and 85 or older, male use is considerably higher than female use.

Usage by Race/Ethnicity

Veterans of the two smallest race groups, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaskan Natives, have the highest and lowest rates of use in one or more VA programs (60.8% and 45.1%, respectively). White Veterans are between the extremes at 50.2%, which is very near the average of rates, 52.3% (2).

NOTE: In the data above, Hispanic includes individuals of any race who are identified as Hispanic ethnicity. All other groups exclude Hispanics, e.g. white means non-Hispanic white. Veterans identified as multiracial are included in the Other category.

How the Sexes Differ by Era of Service

The percentage distributions of the populations of male and female Veteran users vary over the eras in which they initially served. Most male veteran users first served during the Vietnam era (31.6%) or Post-9/11 Gulf War era (31.7%). The majority of female users first served during the Post-9/11 Gulf War era (56.3%). This finding is keeping with the trend of increasing rate of service of females in the armed forces in recent decades.
When usage rates are calculated within era of service cohorts, rates of use for each sex are similar for the Pre-9/11, Post-9/11, and Peacetime only eras. However, for Veterans who first served in World War II, the Korean Conflict, or the Vietnam Era, males use VA benefits and services at a higher rate than females. 

Additional observations:
  • The overall use rate of female Veterans is similar to male veterans, at 49% compared to 52%, respectively.
  • Regardless of sex, Veterans who initially served in peacetime use VA programs at a lower rate (31% for females and 33% for males) than those who initially served in any of the eras of conflict.
Return to the Introduction, or view Parts 2 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. For more information on VBA programs, please visit Veterans Benefits Administration Home (va.gov). The VBA Annual Benefits Report is another source of information on benefit programs delivered by VBA and the extent to which Veterans and their dependents use these benefits.
2. Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaskan Natives comprise only 0.2% and 0.8%, respectively, of the Veteran population in FY 2021. The majority of Veterans are White (79.7%), followed by Black (12.5%), Multiracial (3.2%), Asian (1.8%), and Other (1.8%).  

Contact Information and Credits

For questions, please email us at VANCVAS@va.gov
Title photo by North Carolina National Guard licensed under Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0.