Data shows state’s veterans not immune to suicide, homelessness

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D (KELO) — The estimated veterans’ population in South Dakota is 65,014, according to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s 2020 fiscal year benefit report.

About 18,000 of those 65,000 veterans were enrolled in compensation programs with total annual payments of $275,042,026, according to the report.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau more than 40% of the state’s veterans use VA health care. The state has 20 VA facilities including hospitals in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. About 20% have a service-connected disability. Less than 10% are not insured.

The use of the VA services includes veterans of all wars and ages.

But, particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been more immediate or recent research with U.S. veterans who have retired from military service.

For example, a survey of 10,000 veterans was conducted by the VA soon after those veterans left the military.

“Researchers have pointed to the early transition period as a critical time to address challenges veterans may face in readjusting to civilian life,” said a U.S. Veterans Affairs’ Jan. 2, 2020 report of a survey of 10,000 veterans.

Health issues were the top issue for those veterans.

“At both three and nine months after leaving the military, 53% of participants said they had chronic physical health conditions. About 33% reported chronic mental health conditions at both time points,” according the survey report.

The VA said there was an average 17.2 veteran suicides per day in 2019.

The average number of veteran suicides per day rose 4.5%, from 16.4 in 2001 to 17.2 in 2019 but that was far lower than the increase in the general public where there was a 55% increase, according to the VA 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual report.

Twenty-three South Dakota veterans killed themselves in 2019, one less than in 2018, according to the VA.

The 2019 data showed that fewer than 10 in each age category killed themselves, but the 2018 data showed that 13 veterans in the 55 to 74 age range killed themselves that year.

There are also links between mental health issues and homelessness for veterans.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans said veterans make up 13% of the population although 7% of the general population are veterans. Half of all homeless veterans have a serious mental health issue, 51% of a disability, 70% have a substance abuse problem.

And 32% live in suburban and rural areas.

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) supported through the Home Depot Foundation said that 6.2% of South Dakota’s veterans live in poverty. The council quotes the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency which says 43 South Dakota veterans are homeless.

Yet, affordable and quality housing is a problem for some veterans in the state. HAC said about 19% of the state’s veterans pay too much for housing. About 7,300 veterans live in homes with one or more major problems of quality, crowding or cost.

South Dakotans continue to serve in the military.

The Council on Foreign Relations said the state had up to 2,000 recruits for Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard in 2018.

The number of minority veterans is expected to increase from 6,708 in 2020 to 14,008 in 2045, according to the VA.

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