Nov 9, 2023 - News

Veterans turn to biotech to tackle longtime health crises

Photo of military service members standing at attention next to American and Californian flags

California Air National Guard members at a Veterans Day event in San Jose in 2021. Photo: Aric Crabb/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

​​Veterans are increasingly embracing the Bay Area's biotech hub in a bid for new solutions as former military personnel continue to face challenges with mental health, homelessness and employment after leaving service.

By the numbers: Veterans comprise over 4% of California's adult civilian population, with almost 20,900 in San Francisco and around 270,000 spread out across the Bay Area.

  • Almost 1.28 million of the state's veteran population served during wartime, according to 2020 data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

State of play: Local veterans who work with VA medical centers to spearhead research in biotech, are exploring the use of psychedelics in treating PTSD, augmented reality and robotics for rehabilitation and muscle tissue engineering to treat traumatic injuries.

  • The pipeline has become more robust in recent years, with industry association Biocom California's nonprofit arm launching a program to recruit, train and prepare veterans for careers in life sciences.
  • "I believe the mission-driven nature of the industry makes it highly suitable to veterans as well as active-duty service members nearing their transition to civilian life," Joseph Panetta, Biocom California's CEO, wrote in a 2022 opinion piece in Stars and Stripes.
  • The nonprofit VetsInTech, based in San Francisco, also connects veterans with the broader tech ecosystem while providing reintegration services to help them secure jobs.

Yes, but: A 2017 USC study surveying over 700 veterans in San Francisco found that nearly 63% of pre-9/11 participants and 83% of post-9/11 participants say civilians do not understand the problems veterans face.

  • Many veterans also reported significant housing distress and food insecurity, per the report.
  • The report, which was authored by researchers in USC's School of Social Work, emphasized the need for more targeted employment retraining programs that enable veterans to move into higher-paying occupations.

Context: San Francisco served as a critical port for the U.S. in the 20th century, with crucial military operations conducted out of Fort Miley, Fort Mason and the Presidio.

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