Puerto Rico’s Veteran Population

How many veterans live in Puerto Rico? How does this population compare to the United States’ overall veterans population?

Before I start this analysis, we need to keep in mind Harry Franqui-Rivera’s research on Puerto Rican veterans. His work demonstrates that a great number of island-born Puerto Ricans who enlisted in the military did not settle in Puerto Rico following the end of their military careers. Thus, the numbers of veterans in the island does not equate the number of island-born Puerto Ricans who have served in the U.S. military.

Indeed, Franqui-Rivera’s works shows that Puerto Ricans’ military service has helped many island-born Puerto Ricans resettle in the U.S. mainland. In a recent essay, he explains that the island’s current economic woes have accelerated this process.

In this post, I will be using the U.S. Census’s 2015 American Community Survey for Puerto Rico and the United States to compare both populations. It is worth noting that some of the veterans living in Puerto Rico may not be island-born Puerto Ricans.

According to the 2015 estimates, the United States’ veteran population was 18,830,450 and Puerto Rico’s was 95,342, representing 0.5% of the total. While 8.4% of all veterans were women, in the island the figure is lower by 3.2%.

In line with Franqui-Rivera’s findings, and as illustrated in the graph below, 57% of Puerto Rico’s veterans are 64 years or older.

chart (44)

The fact that many of the island-born veterans reside in the U.S. mainland can be demonstrated by the next graph, which breaks down veterans’ military service by war periods.

chart (42)

Given Puerto Rico’s economic troubles, it is not surprising that the island’s veteran population is on average worse off economically than veterans in the United States. chart (47)

If we look at veterans’ educational attainment, the story is a a bit mixed. More than 40% of Puerto Rico’s veterans did not attend post-secondary education programs. But, on average the number of veterans with a college degree is higher in Puerto Rico than in the United States.

chart (45)

One surprising finding in the 2015 estimates is the number of veterans who have been classified as disabled. The average number of disabled veterans is higher in Puerto Rico than in the total U.S. veteran population.

chart (46) 

What explains this difference? I am not exactly sure and it is an issue that deserves closer attention. However, one plausible explanation is that the Department of Veterans Affairs may be providing many of these disabled veterans some sort of financial compensation which insulates them from the island’s economic troubles.  In this manner, we can hypothesize that most island-born veterans would like to return to Puerto Rico once they end their years of military service, but given the island’s economic troubles they are force to relocate to the U.S. mainland.

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