Veterans Day tends to be a quiet holiday in the Bay Area, a region where most of the military bases have closed and most people besides public employees go to work.
But as the last American troops come home from Iraq and President Barack Obama begins to draw down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Northern California, like the rest of the country, has begun to wrestle with the long-term impacts of the conflicts, which have left about one in five of the 2.2 million American service members who participated with physical or mental wounds from the battlefield.
Here are some facts about the human impact of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on our region:
29,669: Number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans living in the Bay Area
The Census Bureau reports there are 29,669 veterans in our nine-country region who served in the military after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Solano County, which houses Fairfield’s Travis Air Force Base, is home to the largest number of veterans, 6,445.
29,126: Number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans using the VA health care system in Northern California
Nationally, only about half of the veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan use the health care offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the VA, nearly 30,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have gone to a VA hospital or clinic in the Northern California region, a vast area that runs from Fresno to the Oregon border.
10,243: Number of Northern California Iraq and Afghanistan veterans receiving mental health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs
About a third of the veterans who use the VA health care system in Northern California sought care for post-traumatic stress disorder or a related mental health condition, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Those numbers include 3,312 mental health patients in the East Bay, 2,830 in Palo Alto and 1,315 in San Francisco. Across the region, 800 Iraq and Afghanistan were hospitalized with a mental health condition, while the balance sought outpatient care at a hospital, clinic or Vet Center operated by the VA.
8,671: Number of calls in Northern California to the veterans' suicide hotline from January to July 2011
The VA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received more than 8,000 calls from Northern California in the first seven months of this year, according to a spreadsheet provided to The Bay Citizen. According to the VA, Northern California recorded the fourth-most distress calls in the country, after regions centered around Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston.
Nationally, slightly more than half of such calls came from veterans themselves, while most of the rest came from concerned friends and family members.
93: Number of Bay Area veterans under 35 who died between 2005 and 2009
Records on file at the California Department of Public Health show 93 veterans under 35 died in the Bay Area between 2005 and 2009. About one-third of the deaths were suicides, with the balance made up primarily of car accidents, motorcycle crashes and accidental drug overdoses.
An analysis of death records by The Bay Citizen last year showed that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were two and a half times as likely to commit suicide as Californians of the same age with no military service. They were twice as likely to die in a vehicle accident and five and a half times as likely to die in a motorcycle accident.
2,700: Number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans using the GI Bill to attend college or university in the Bay Area
In June 2008, George W. Bush signed a new GI Bill into law that — for the first time since World War II — would pay the entire cost of a four-year college or university education. In the Bay Area, about 2,700 veterans are taking advantage of this benefit, VA records show.
Locally, City College of San Francisco had the most students on the GI Bill, with 365. Santa Rosa Junior College was second, with 257.