By JAMES DAO
The 2012 edition of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s annual survey of its members came out on Monday. The largest such survey by the group to date, its results provide some interesting insights into what’s on the minds of recent veterans today.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that employment, mental health, disability benefits, health care, education (including the G.I. Bill), suicide and families — in that order — were the top concerns of the more than 4,200 members who responded.
Nearly 17 percent said they were unemployed when they took the survey in January, a higher rate than was documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which put the veterans’ unemployment rate for January at 9 percent.
Of those who are working, 37 percent said they worked for the government at some level, far outpacing the second largest industry listed, health care and pharmaceuticals, which tallied 8 percent. Similarly, of those looking for work, the largest group, about a quarter, said they wanted to find jobs in government.
In its summary of the survey, I.A.V.A. noted that because many local, state and federal agencies have been trimming their work forces, “the threat to veteran employment may grow.”
More than one in three respondents, 37 percent, said they knew someone who had committed suicide, down slightly from last year’s result. Asked if the person who committed suicide was serving or had separated from the military, respondents were almost evenly divided: 30 percent said the person had separated when the act occurred; 27 percent said the person was serving but not deployed; 25 percent said the person was serving and deployed. Another 11 percent said the person was in the National Guard and not deployed.
Two-thirds said they think troops and veterans are not getting the mental health care they need. Asked what were important factors in providing excellent mental health services, about three-quarters said that counselors should have served in the military, understand military life and culture, or have received specialized training in working with service members and veterans.
Asked about their relationships, nearly 80 percent said they were married or in a long-term relationship during a deployment. Nearly two-thirds said the deployment strained their relationships, and 6 in 10 said readjustment was difficult. Only 4 percent said their deployments had no effect on their relationships.
The vast majority — nearly 9 in 10 — said they had had no serious run-ins with law enforcement after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. But of those who had, half said alcohol was the problem.
Of the 4,278 veterans who responded to the online survey — conducted between Jan. 1 and Jan. 16 — a little more than half submitted proof of post 9/11 service in Iraq or Afghanistan, while the rest did not.
Nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed were men, 6 in 10 were Army veterans and more than 8 in 10 had served in Iraq. Almost half, 45 percent, were 36 years or older. Nine in 10 said they were registered to vote. Asked about their place of residence, the largest group, nearly 11 percent, said they lived in California.
The paid online surveys included some intriguing opinions about government. Neither the president nor Congress scored well when the veterans were asked if those officials listen to service members or Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs did a bit better, with 42 percent answering in the affirmative.
Asked about the Department of Veterans Affairs, half said they had a somewhat to very positive opinion of the department — though nearly 7 in 10 could not correctly name Eric K. Shinseki as the secretary.
V.A. health care and educational benefits received good or very good ratings from about 6 in 10 respondents, with disability benefits falling slightly below 50 percent. The new G.I. Bill seemed particularly important to the veterans, with 29 percent saying they were using their benefits and another 37 percent saying they expected to use the benefits in the future.