SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota had 59,243 veterans from 2014-2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated the total number of veterans at 67,119 as of Sept. 30, 2018.
Based on the VA’s numbers, South Dakota appears to be defying a national trend in age of veterans. Nationally, there there are fewer veterans in rural areas in 2020 than 25 years ago and the remaining rural veterans are getting older.
Almost 60% of rural veterans in the U.S. were 65 and older in 2018, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Of those, more than half were 75 and older.
The VA said about 4.7 million veterans lived in rural areas.
But in South Dakota, 37,024 of its veterans were under 65 and 30,095 were 65 and over.
The number of veterans in the state has been declining.
The number of veterans in 2019 was listed at 64,111 according to the VA’s fiscal year 2019 report.
The South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs said in its fiscal year 2013 report that the state had about 75,000 veterans.
The S.D. VA said the state had about 70,000 veterans in fiscal year 2016.
In 1992, the share of rural veterans age 65 or older was closer to 30% in the U.S. according to the USDA.
The main reason for the decrease in veterans living in rural areas was the overall decrease in active military from 1992 to 2018. Numbers declined by more than half from 6.6 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 2018, according to the USDA.
Still, there is a national shift in the residence of younger veterans to more populous areas. As South Dakota’s population grows, the growth is mostly in more populated areas of the state such as Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. But with less than 1 million people overall, South Dakota is still a very rural state.
The veterans in South Dakota’s two most least populated counties totaled about 129 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Harding County, with an estimated 2019 population of 1,265, had 90 veterans. Jones County with an estimated 2019 population of 903 had 39 veterans.
The VA said in September of 2018, Harding had 68 veterans and Jones had 44. The number of veterans is expected to be almost steady for few years but then, decline to less than 100 in Harding County. Jones County’s numbers will increase slightly but then is expected to drop to fewer than 40 in about 15 years.
Veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, are more likely to have been deployed at least once, according to research from the Pew Trust. Roughly three quarters were deployed once compared to 58% of the veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001. The post 9/11 veterans twice as likely to serve in a combat zone.
Veterans deployed and in combat zones are more likely to have emotional scars from service, according to Pew research.
While they may not require the same services as older veterans, such as nursing home care, there is a need for mental health and physical health services for younger veteran, studies say.
The VA’s Office of Rural Health said more than 2.8 million rural veterans rely on the VA for their health care.
Older age and a higher incidence of disabilities may make rural veterans, as a group, increasingly vulnerable, according to the USDA.
As veterans age, there is an increased demand for medical services and long term care such as residency in a nursing home, according to the U.S. Government Office of Accountability (GOA).
The VA provides or pays for long term care for eligible veterans in three programs in VA owned and operated community living centers, state veterans homes and private and publicly owned community nursing homes under contract with the VA.
The number of veterans in those three types of facilities grew from fiscal year 2014 to 2018, according to the GOA. The numbers grew by 14% from 464,071 to 530,327. The most growth happened in community nursing homes.
The GOA said 55% of the veterans receiving long-term care had some level of a service-connected disability. That 55% equaled 291,197 veterans in the fiscal year 2018.