It’s Veterans Day weekend, a tailor-made opportunity to take stock of military veterans’ place in our picturesque corner of northeast Alabama.
More than 10,300 veterans live in Calhoun County, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s 9 percent of the total population in a county that was home to a large U.S. Army post — Fort McClellan — for nearly a century and still features a sizable Alabama National Guard facility.
Calhoun County ranks in the top third among Alabama counties with the highest total populations of veterans.
Nearly 370,000 veterans live in Alabama, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That’s 9.8 percent of the state’s adult-age population. More than 10 percent of Alabama veterans are women. More than 16 percent are military retirees. And more than 43 percent are aged 65 and over.
Alabama ranks in the upper half — 20th — of the states with the highest total populations of veterans.
More than 98,000 Alabama veterans receive disability payments.
More veterans of the Gulf War era reside in Alabama than any other war (145,729). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have remade the demographics of America’s modern-day veterans, a trend Alabama readily mimics. Our state also had roughly 10,000 surviving veterans of World War II in 2015, a figure the VA predicts will slip to around 3,500 by the fall of 2020.
We say all that to offer numerical illustrations of veterans’ prevalence throughout Alabama. But numbers are a cold, impersonal way to describe a person. Each veteran has a story, ranging somewhere between boring and dramatic, particularly those who deployed abroad or experienced combat.
After nearly two decades of continual wars in the Middle East and Asia, today’s younger veterans are more susceptible to high rates of stress and anxiety related to their experiences, experts say. This fall, Military Times reported that suicide rates for veterans were 1.5 times greater than for non-military Americans. “About 20 veterans a day across the country take their own lives, and veterans accounted for 14 percent of all adult suicide deaths in the U.S. in 2016, even though only 8 percent of the country’s population has served in the military,” the newspaper reported.
That’s a lot to chew on, and it’s not all pleasant. But we think it’s important for Alabamians this weekend to not only be aware of the realities facing America’s military veterans, but to also acknowledge how important their presence is to our state. We salute them.