The newest generation of combat veterans is struggling with integration into civilian life, confronted by suicidal thoughts, mental-health issues, unemployment and the inability to get timely assessments of their disability claims, according to anationwide survey of 2,089 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Yet post-9/11 veterans who have used the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system generally have a favorable impression of the medical services provided, the survey found.
"In many ways, I think this should be a wake-up call for all Americans," IAVA Chief Executive Paul Rieckhoff said.
The survey puts hard statistics on a variety of pressing issues Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face on the home front, he said.
The survey was conducted during a three-week period early this year before public disclosures of secret waiting lists and mismanagement at the Phoenix VA hospital and at facilities across the country.
The survey is the sixth and most comprehensive that the organization has conducted, IAVA Research Director Jackie Maffucci said. The research was conducted online and was composed of about 200 questions, with respondents answering only questions relevant to their experiences.
IAVA executives use the findings to guide the organization's advocacy work and to inform policymakers about the experiences of post-9/11 veterans, Maffucci said. The organization released its findings Thursday in Washington.
The report paints a picture of former military personnel trying to move beyond the wars while worrying about their legacies.
The survey indicates that suicide and mental-health issues among the newest generation of veterans should be top-line issues for President Obama, VA secretary nominee Robert McDonald and federal lawmakers, Rieckhoff said.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., said, "These findings are heartbreaking, but they're consistent with what I've been hearing from Arizona veterans and in my work on the Veterans' Affairs Committee."
Approximately 31% of the respondents said they have thought about taking their own lives since joining the military, according to the survey. And 40% know at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has committed suicide, while 47% know at least one who has attempted suicide.
Most respondents feel they are getting little support from policymakers. Approximately 69% feel Congress is doing a poor job of improving veterans' lives, and 54% say the president is doing a poor job.
Veterans suicides constitute a huge public-health challenge, if not a public-health crisis, that goes well beyond the Department of Defense or the VA, Rieckhoff said.
"There hasn't been a generation of young Americans that have lost so many people close to them since the early days of the AIDS crisis," Rieckhoff said.