World War II, three decades of conscription and a large peacetime military have left America with 25 million veterans. But the World War II generation is passing on. While the World War II vets comprise 18 percent of the total (and contributing heavily to the 39 percent who are 65 who are older), they are now displaced by the 33 percent who are Vietnam era vets. Only about eight percent of the population are veterans, a big drop from 1945, when 12 percent of the population was. The time when veterans are a large chunk of the population is passing. Within two generations, only about three percent of the population will be veterans. Unless the number of people in the military sharply increases, eventually only about two percent of the population will be vets.
Veterans remind us not only of the personal sacrifices that are made to defend the country, but of the long term cost as well. We spend about $60 billion a year for veterans benefits, a sum that will increase as the large numbers of World War II and Vietnam era vets grow older. Currently, about 2.5 million vets receive $21 billion in payments for service related disabilities. No one is getting rich on that, as it comes to $8,400 a year (on average) per veteran.