How Do We Know 1,100 World War II Veterans Die Every Day?

In signing a law that will create a monument on the National Mall to the veterans of World War II, President Bush said that there’s no time to waste because 1,100 of these veterans are dying every day. How do we know how many World War II veterans are dying?

Because the Department of Veterans Affairs has put together a statistical estimate on the mortality rates of the greatest generation. There is no way for the government to actually track each individual veteran death. The VA estimates are based on the 1990 census data, in which people who received the long form were asked about military service, and on actuarial tables that track the mortality rates of people old enough to have served. Of the 16.1 million people who were in the armed forces during World War II, the VA estimates about 5.45 million are still alive today. They expect that in the 12-month period ending this September, about 419,000 will have died, for an average of 1,147 a day. This is down slightly from what was believed to be the peak year of mortality, the 12 months ending in September 2000 when 421,000 veterans are estimated to have died, for an average of 1,153 a day. The median age of the veterans is 77.5 for men and 79.2 for women, and there are 1,000 who are centenarians. For purposes of a rough comparison, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that in 1998, 2,337,256 Americans of all ages died, or 6,400 a day. For those aged 70 or more, the yearly rate was 1,563,440, or 4,283 a day.

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Explainer thanks Terry Jemison of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Mary Jones of theNational Center for Health Statistics. Also, thanks to Joel Andren who suggested the question.