Pandemic fallout, military sexual trauma and toxic exposure major concerns for wounded warriors

Photo credit DVIDS

COVID-19, employment and money issues, toxic exposure and military sexual trauma.

The 2020 Annual Warrior Survey, released Friday, found that those are just some of the major issues at the forefront of the minds of those served by the Wounded Warrior Project.

“The difficulties of the pandemic are exacerbated for those who serve,” said WWP CEO retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington. “That is why we are doubling down on our mission to honor and empower warriors no matter the challenge.

With 28,282 respondents, the annual survey is the largest, most statistically relevant survey of injured post-9/11 veterans, according to WWP.

PTSD spikes among post 9/11 veterans, WWP survey finds

Conducted from May to June, 40% of survey respondents reported employment struggles. The unemployment rate for wounded veterans this year stands at 16.2%, compared to 11.5% last year. 

Even with that, Melanie Mousseau, WWP’s program metrics director, said there is an upside.

“The vast majority, 80% of the warriors who responded to the survey, said there were people in their lives that they can depend on if they really need it,” she said. “We know how important it is to have that kind of social support.”

Amid the pandemic, WWP has awarded over $11 million to veterans and $7.25 million to support caregivers through relief initiatives.

“We were seeing that warriors were losing jobs, family members were losing jobs, so we needed to step in,” said Mousseau. “We put together a grant process for warriors to apply for emergency funding to help keep their families afloat during this time of uncertainty.” 

Eighty percent of the survey’s respondents were men and 20% were women. The average age of respondents was 43. Six percent were active duty and 42% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The 11th annual survey revealed:

  • Since socially distancing, more than half of the respondents (52%) agreed their mental health is worse, and almost half (49%) agreed their physical health is worse.
  • Physical and mental health care was delayed for those with appointments, with 70% having in-person physical health appointments canceled or postponed and about half (51%) having mental health appointments canceled or postponed.

One-third of Wounded Warriors say they’ve thought of suicide in the past two weeks, survey finds

The survey found the top five most commonly reported injuries or health problems involved trouble sleeping, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder; anxiety; back, neck and shoulder problems; and depression. 

Seventy-one percent of the respondents reported exposure to toxic substances during their military service and 18% reported probable exposure. Of those, 16% have received treatment for their exposure at VA.

In addition, 11% self-identified as having experienced military sexual trauma. Sixty-one percent of the female respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment and 44% said they had experienced sexual assault. That compares to 4% percent of the males who reported sexual harassment and 2% who experienced sexual assault. 

The vast majority of respondents -- 72% -- said they have health coverage through VA. Those who chose to get their health care outside of VA did so because of a bad prior experience with VA; believe health care is better outside of VA; or believe it is difficult to access VA care.

For the first time, the survey asked about electronic games. According to the report, male veterans spent 3.5 hours a day playing, while female veterans spent 3.1 hours a day playing video games.

To read the entire survey, click here.

Reach Julia LeDoux at
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