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Monday, May 20, 2024

A younger veteran population is diversifying the VA’s efforts to help them

The veteran population in Virginia is hovering around 720,000, according to a 2016 survey by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

While the nationwide veteran population is on a steady decline, Virginia is forecast to decline slower than the rest of the country, said Steven Combs, the VA’s deputy commissioner.

Virginia is scheduled to go from having the eighth largest veteran population to the fifth largest in the next five to 10 years, with more than two-thirds of the veteran population hovering around that 18 to 65 years of age classification, he said.

Combs said with the veteran population in Virginia split up between an aging population of 65 years and older and then a younger working class population of 18-65, the VA has had to change its approaches to figure out how best to serve them.

Changing the approach

The WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran population is shrinking, which means the focus has been shifting in the VA from how to care for the older population to now figuring out how to transition the growing younger vet populations.

The female veteran population specifically has been on the rise as more and more women are joining the military.

Virginia has the highest per capita of female veterans, around 100,000, Combs said.

That makes one in every seven veterans a female, and the numbers just keep going up.

“The VA has had to do a lot to adapt their programs and services to accommodate female vets,” Combs said.

He said before there were little to no female veterans so the VA facilities were catered to men.

Now with the added female population comes female veteran-unique challenges such as dealing with parenthood and military sexual trauma, Combs said.

Mentoring is also a big factor for the female veteran population.

Combs said the VA has now had to ask the question “How do we connect this generation to the generation before them,” when it comes to dealing with female vets.

The roadblocks

It isn’t just the female veteran population that is dealing with roadblocks post-service.

Some of the biggest services the VA provides is access to education and job transitions.

There are a lot of skills veterans have that would translate well into the civilian world and the VA wants to make sure that employers are noticing that, Combs said.

“That boots to suits transition can be hard, and the VA is there to help veterans learn what kind of structure they’ll need in the civilian world,” Combs said.

The VA can work with a veteran to find out if continuing education, a structured workplace or a freelance job type would be best.

The other major service the VA provides is veterans disability.

A major roadblock vets face is gathering the correct evidence to prove their claim is service-related, Combs said.

Across Virginia there are 70 Veterans Service Representatives accredited by the VA in the 31 Benefits Offices in the state.

There’s an additional 20 team members who are VA accredited but do not work in the 31 offices that specialize in the appeals process, training, managing and staffing centers.

Combs said those employees work hard to help veterans with their disability claims and that Virginia has some of the most comprehensive VA-accredited facilities because of the high volume of veterans in the state.

“We want our vets to know that they have an ally to break down these roadblocks and that we will advocate for our veterans throughout the whole process,” Combs said. “We’re here to serve them.”

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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