Veterans are more likely than non-military civilians to volunteer in their communities and interact with neighbors but often aren’t recognized for that involvement, according to a new civic health survey of veterans unveiled last week.
“There’s a counter narrative out there, where veterans hear that they’re broken or that they need help,” said Mary Beth Bruggeman, president of The Mission Continues, one of the organizations behind the new report. “And organizations like ours exist to remind them that while they may need some help, in fact, you are here to help and the community needs your help.”
The findings, drawn from surveys of more than 60,000 American households, echo the findings of past civic health studies that showed higher engagement from veterans across a host of community activities.
Veterans are more likely to be registered to vote than their non-military peers (75 percent versus 70 percent) and more likely to have voted in recent elections (66 percent versus 62 percent). Veterans averaged 95 hours of volunteer work a year, compared to 74 hours for non-veterans.
Nearly 37 percent of veterans belong to a group working on community issues, while only 27 percent of non-veterans regularly take part in those group activities.
“In almost all measures, veterans old and young were more civically healthy than non-veterans,” the report states.
But the report — compiled with research from the National Conference on Citizenship and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — also notes that “the civilian population has not always recognized the veterans population at large as an asset to communities and too often focus on the challenges that some veterans face.”
While lingering injuries like post-traumatic stress and difficult adjustments to civilian life are serious issues for many separating service members, “they are not the only narratives” for veterans in post-military life.
Bruggeman, whose organization focuses on opportunities for veterans and military families to volunteer in their communities, said civic leaders need to recognize the unique skills and enthusiasm that veterans can bring with them to different local projects.
“When we need somebody to lead, what this report shows us is that the data points to these vets,” she said. “This is who you ask to step up, because they are more willing, they’re more prepared, their experience and their whole being points them towards service.”
The report recommends that civic leaders “recruit, empower and leverage veterans” in local improvement efforts, to help both them and the rest of the community.
“Challenge veterans to lead at work and in the community,” the report states. “These are the men and women who volunteered to fight our nation’s longest war. Recognize their desire and skills to serve and actively recruit and engage them in making impact in communities.”
The full report is available on the National Conference on Citizenship website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.