The term ‘veteran’ traditionally described former Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel who were deployed to serve in war or war-like environments. Veterans are now considered people who have any experience in the ADF including current (permanent), reserve, and former (ex-serving) personnel (Tehan 2017).
Veterans’ information is available from a variety of data sources including administrative data and surveys. The 2021 Census included, for the first time, a question on ADF service. Veterans in the 2021 Census: first result summarises the initial results released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The exact number of Australian veterans is unknown and varies between data sources
According to the 2021 Census of Population and Housing, more than half a million Australians (581,000) had served, or were currently serving, in the ADF (ABS 2022a).
Based on Defence administration data available to AIHW, as of 31 December 2020, almost 379,000 Australians had served at least one day in the ADF between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2020. Of these, approximately 362,000 were alive, comprising 60,000 permanent, 39,000 reserve, and 263,000 ex-serving members (AIHW 2022). For more information, see How many Australian veterans are there?
Ex-serving ADF members are typically older
In 2020–21, males who had ever served in the ADF were typically older than males who had never served – 47% of males who served in the ADF were aged 65 years and over, compared with 18% of males who had never served. For more information, see Who are veterans?
The majority of male veterans rate their health as good or better
In 2020–21, 76% of males who had ever served in the ADF rated their health as good or better, with 45% of male veterans considering themselves to be in excellent or very good health. However, this was lower compared with people who had never served in the ADF, with 57% rating their health as excellent or very good. For more information, see Health status.
Male veterans share similar exposure to several health risk factors compared with males who have never served
In 2020–21, males who had ever served in the ADF had similar exposure to several health risk factors compared with males who had never served. This included similar exposure to daily smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption, alcohol consumption, psychological distress and physical activity. However, males who had ever served in the ADF had higher exposure to being overweight or obese. For more information, see Health risk factors.
Male veterans are more likely to self-report experiencing several long-term health conditions than males who have never served
In 2020–21, males who had ever served in the ADF were more likely to self-report having heart, stroke and vascular disease, arthritis, back problems, diabetes, cancer, COPD1 and mental and behavioural conditions (including anxiety related disorders) than males who had never served. For more information, see Health status.
Male veterans are more likely to have a mental or behavioural condition than males who have never served
In 2020-21, males who had ever served in the ADF were more likely to self-report having a mental or behavioural condition than males who had never served (27% compared with 17%). For more information, see Health status.
Permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF males have lower all-cause mortality rates
Age-specific all-cause mortality rates between 2002–2019 for permanent, reserve, or ex-serving ADF males were lower than rates for Australian males, except for ex-serving ADF males aged 16–29 where the rate was higher than Australian males. For more information, see Health status.
Permanent and reserve males have a lower risk of suicide
Permanent and reserve males were about half as likely to die by suicide as Australian males (51% and 48% lower respectively). Ex-serving males were at a higher risk of death by suicide than Australian males (24% higher). For more information, see Health status.
1 These results include males aged 18 years and over, however, COPD occurs mostly in people aged 45 and over. While it is occasionally reported in younger age groups, in those aged 45 and over there is more certainty that the condition is COPD and not another respiratory condition. As such, COPD results should be interpreted with caution.