The first-ever examination of civic involvement of veterans, released Thursday, shows results that debunk stereotypes of the wounded former service members struggling to adjust to civilian life.
The study, which looked at recent census data, found that nearly 60 percent of veterans under 50 vote in local elections, compared to 48.7 percent of non-veterans under 50. It also found that veterans serve an average of 160 hours annually as volunteers, about four full workweeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25 percent fewer hours annually.
Over the past eight years, the report says, veterans have consistently earned more than their non-veteran counterparts and had slightly lower unemployment rates in 2014: 6.13 percent for non-veterans compared to 5.65 percent for veterans, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.
The study – called the Veteran Civic Health Index – was initiated by the non-profit Got Your Six campaign, and conducted by and produced in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship.
“It’s important for all of us to provide counterpoints to the misconceptions we have been told for years and years,” said Army veteran Chris Marvin, who is managing director of Got Your Six, originally a fighter pilot term that means “I’ve got your back.” “We want people to know that we are not a population that requires services. But a population that has services to offer.”
New organizations like Team Rubicon, which dispatches veterans alongside first responders to rapidly deploy to emergencies, and The Student Veterans of America, which helps veterans get college degrees and training, are examples of ways the energy and skills of veterans are being tapped, said Marvin, who has an MBA from University of Pennsylvania Wharton School.
“One of the most interesting things is that this is the actual hard data for something we have known was true,” he said. “That vets are civic assets and it’s great to have real empirical evidence to back that.”
He began the Got Your Six campaign because he believed that both the news media and the entertainment industry were viewing vets “with pity and charity, when they should see them as leaders and assets.”
The report was unveiled Thursday morning at an event at The National Press Club.
The Got Your Six Web site explains its campaign this way: “For the past decade, our country has framed ‘veteran reintegration’ as a major societal problem or struggle. On the contrary, Got Your Six believes that it is crucial for Americans to see veteran reintegration as an opportunity, because veterans are uniquely suited to solve some of our nation’s most difficult challenges.”
“The average American has little first-hand connection to the military and often believes that, in general, veterans are much more likely than civilians to experience unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, and various other issues. These notions are largely misconceptions,” the Got Your Six site continues. “They paint a picture of veterans as ‘broken.’ As a result, veterans often say they feel more pity than respect from the civilian population.”