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Planning for the future needs of Canadian veterans requires comprehensive and detailed data on the size of the Canadian veteran population and their health. This article describes current veteran population estimates and examines the health of two eras of veterans compared with the health of Canadians in general.

Data and methods

This study describes the size and age structure of the Canadian veteran population forecasted by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). Veteran health was examined for two eras of Regular Force veterans. The health of earlier-era veterans (released between 1954 and 2003) was examined using the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey. The health of recent-era veterans (released between 1998 and 2012) was examined using the 2013 Life After Service Survey. Health indicators for veterans were compared with the Canadian general population using age- and sex-adjusted rates and confidence intervals.


The VAC forecast points to a stable population of about 600,000 veterans for the next decade, but a growing proportion will be older than 70 years old. Regular Force veterans of both eras had a higher prevalence than the Canadian general population of activity limitations and back problems, a lower prevalence of low income, and a similar prevalence of life stress and heavy drinking. Recent-era veterans had a higher prevalence than the Canadian general population of many more indicators—in particular, arthritis, self-rated mental health, depression and anxiety.


Veterans differed from the Canadian general population in many areas of well-being, and recent-era veterans differed in more areas than earlier-era veterans. These results highlight the need for forecasting and planning, and for policy that is sensitive to these differences and incorporates health status changes as veterans age. Multiple data sources will be required to describe the future health needs of the entire Canadian veteran population.


Veterans, population health, epidemiology, survey


An estimated 658,000 veterans were living in Canada as of March 2017. Veterans are former members of the Canadian Armed Forces (Regular Force or Reserve Force). Unfortunately, there is no detailed listing of the 650,000 Canadians who served in the First World War, the 1,037,000 who served in the Second World War, the 26,800 who served in the Korean War, or the many who served in the Canadian Armed Forces since 1954. Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) uses several sources to estimate the size and age structure of the veteran population in Canada. These sources are used to forecast future veteran population estimates, but do not describe veterans’ health. [Full Text]


Linda D. VanTil (linda.vantil@canada.ca), MaryBeth MacLean, Jill Sweet and Kristofer McKinnon are with the Research Directorate of Veterans Affairs Canada, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

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