Increasing Concentration of Veterans in Rural Areas Poses Challenges for VA

Most Vets Now Settle in Only a Few States
BELLINGHAM, WA — Changing demographics for veterans in the United States, with most now settling in the South and the Southwest, often in rural areas, has potentially profound implications for how and where VA offers services. It also raises questions about the future of the broad base of political support that traditionally has existed for veterans’ healthcare.

Those concerns were underscored by a recent study which graphically illustrates the growing divide between veterans and civilians who have never served. Research by Jay Teachman, PhD, of Western Washington University indicates that, as the total number of veterans in the United States declined over the past three decades, the veteran population increasingly concentrated in rural counties.1


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According to the study published in Armed Forces & Society, veterans tended to gravitate to rural areas with large military installations in states such as Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.

Two factors primarily drive this migration, Teachman told U.S. Medicine.

“Oftentimes, these are the areas where veterans were recruited from initially. We know the largest number of recruits come from the Mountain West and South, and that’s where they tend to return,” he noted.

In addition, larger bases “offer settings veterans are more familiar and comfortable with — and where it is easier to obtain services and benefits,” Teachman said.

This might result in a continued shift of veterans’ services in tandem with military bases.

As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in a 2010 speech at Duke University in Durham, NC, about the military-civilian divide, a significant percentage of Army personnel are now concentrated in Texas, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina.

“Studies have shown that one of the biggest factors in propensity to join the military is growing up near those who have or are serving,” Gates said. “In this country, that propensity to serve is most pronounced in the South and the Mountain West, and in rural areas and small towns nationwide — a propensity that well exceeds these communities’ portion of the population as a whole.”

Many military installations in the Northeast and West Coast have been shuttered, while other branches have seen similar consolidation, he added.

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