Sunday is Veterans Day. It originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary marking the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation in 1954 to change the name to Veterans Day as a way to honor those who served in all American wars. Nationwide, the day honors military veterans with parades and speeches, and a remembrance ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The ceremony honors and thanks all who served in the U.S. armed forces.

Not surprisingly, U.S. veterans live in every state, and in nearly every county. They are our sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, and our colleagues.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, there were approximately 18.2 million military veterans in the United States. About 1.6 million of them are women. Just under 12 percent of veterans in 2017 were black. More than 77 percent of veterans are non-Hispanic white, 1.6 percent were Asian, 0.8 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.2 percent were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and 1.4 percent were some other race.

About half of U.S. veterans are age 65 or older; only about 9 percent were younger than 35. In fact, the median age for all U.S. veterans is 64. The largest bloc of veterans is between the ages of 65 and 74, and has been decreasing by the decade.

The highest percentage of veterans live in the South, followed by the Midwest and West. As a region, the Northeast has the fewest veterans living in it.

Maine and Vermont lead the nation (one and two, respectively) in percentage of veterans living in “rural areas,” with both states exceeding 65 percent. Nationwide, about 5 million veterans live in areas designated as rural by the U.S. Census Bureau during the 2011–2015 period.

It is an important distinction because of the challenges it imparts.

Understanding who rural veterans are and what sets them apart from other veterans, as well as from their rural neighbors, “provides the necessary perspective for rural communities, government agencies, veterans’ advocates, and other policymakers interested in directing programs and services to this population,” according to the Census website.

“In general, individuals living in rural areas differ from their urban counterparts in terms of demographic characteristics, social ties, culture, and access to infrastructure and institutional support. Much depends on the geography itself. In some parts of the country, rural residents may face substantial physical barriers to accessing services and amenities, including longer travel times, lack of transportation options, and limited availability of services.”

Notably, Vietnam-era veterans had the highest percentage living in rural areas (27.8 percent). That is also true for Vermont.

Rural veterans had an employment rate comparable to nonveterans, but lower than urban veterans. Overall, working-age, rural veterans had a lower employment rate than rural nonveterans and urban veterans. The more rural, the lower the employment rate.

In short, veterans — especially living in Vermont — have a harder time finding work and re-integrating through the use of services and resources more readily available and accessible in more urban areas. That sad fact is not surprising. And it needs to be improved.

It’s important to study the issues faced by this subgroup of “rural veterans,” which does not use services as much, in order to improve services for all veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more commonly known as the VA, has identified veterans living in rural areas as a population of interest. To help address concerns of veterans’ access to care, Congress established the Office of Rural Health within the VA in 2007.

The office collects data in order to help anticipate demands for care, as well as to understand what types of services may be requested or utilized.

Our armed service members come from all walks of life, but they share several qualities: courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity.

This weekend (and in some communities on Monday), we honor these men and women who have been part of something bigger than themselves. They have given so much.

On a week when a record number of Americans went out to exercise their constitutional right to vote, we must not take for granted the service our veterans paid to ensure that we could.

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