For years, Vietnam-era veterans have been the nation’s largest group of former military personnel, but a half-century after the start of the U.S. combat mission, that’s about to change. As these vets age into their 60s and 70s, they’re beginning to make way for the next generation, veterans of the Gulf War era.
By next fall, Gulf War vets will outnumber Vietnam vets, 7.3 million to 7.1 million, and the gap will grow to 2 million by 2020 as the population of Vietnam-era vets falls to 6.3 million, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Vietnam vets are succumbing to diseases and accidents that fell other seniors, but Paul Palazzolo, president of Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter Nine in Detroit, says they’re “dying off at a faster rate because of Agent Orange. It’s tragic, but that’s life: We die off.”