WASHINGTON — Veterans who fought in recent wars hold conflicting views over the value of that fight, according to the latest membership survey from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
About 47 percent said U.S. involvement in the Iraq War was “worth it,” against 43 percent who said it was not. Opinions of the Afghanistan War were slightly higher, with 62 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed.
The survey, which drew responses from roughly 4,600 group members on a host of public policy and military transition issues, doesn’t serve as a full public poll of the opinions of the youngest generation of veterans in America today.
But it does offer a snapshot of the challenges many younger veterans face and the leanings of some of the more civically engaged members of the group.
More than two-thirds of veterans surveyed said the American public supports veterans. Almost the same number said civilians don’t really understand the sacrifices that military members and veterans have had to make in their personal and professional lives, and nearly one-third said they believe most employers do not see value in hiring veterans.
President Donald Trump got higher marks than Congress in trying to help veterans through public policy. In the survey, 46 percent of veterans said he acts in the group’s best interest, compared to only 25 percent for Capitol Hill lawmakers.
And 77 percent of those surveyed said that the country as a whole has not make much progress in solving one of the top veterans challenges: suicide.
Consistent with past surveys from the group, about 65 percent of IAVA members know a fellow post-9/11 veteran who has attempted suicide and nearly 60 percent know one who has lost their life.
The stigma of getting care also remains a major stumbling block for group members struggling with mental health issues.
In the survey, 84 percent of veterans said they do not believe most veterans in the community are receiving the mental health care they need. But 75 percent of IAVA members said they are actively seeking that care, mostly from specialists at Veterans Affairs facilities.
On a more positive note, the number of group members who have signed up for the Department of Veterans Affairs burn pit registry has increased steadily over the years, peaking at 47 percent in the latest survey.
Nearly 60 percent of the survey group offered support for the Department of Defense’s decision to open all combat jobs to women (as did 80 percent of the women surveyed), and 44 percent said they support the president’s push to expand private health care options for veterans currently in the VA system.
An overwhelming majority of the younger veterans — 83 percent — believe that cannabis should be legal for medicinal purposes. The issue is one of several hot-button topics in Congress to be influenced heavily by veterans policy, as lawmakers are looking to push VA officials to better study the value of the drug.
More than two-thirds of the veterans in the survey own a personal firearm, but 86 percent of the group favors universal background checks for individuals purchasing guns. But than half opposed legislation that would ban assault-style firearms or require safe storage of weapons outside of their homes.
The full survey results are available on the IAVA web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.