Think today’s veterans are mostly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and barely making ends meet? According to a recent report by Got Your Six, just the opposite is true. Got Your Six notes that today’s veterans tend to be engaged citizens, more likely to volunteer and vote than the general population. As a group, they earn more than non-veterans with comparable qualifications, complete educational programs at the same rate as non-veterans, and comprise only 8.6 of the homeless population.
Veterans are among our most community-oriented citizens. The study shows that they volunteer an average of 160 hours annually, 25 percent more than non-veterans. They belong to civic groups and attend neighborhood meetings, often assuming leadership roles. Furthermore, 48 percent of them vote in elections regularly, 16 percent more than non-veterans.
These findings should surprise no one. Those who serve in today’s all-volunteer military usually do so out of a sense of commitment. Although the government offers educational, health, and other assistance to service members, of the scores of veterans I have interviewed, every single one has named duty to country, not benefits, as his or her primary reason for serving. Furthermore, nearly all — including severely wounded soldiers — say they would do it again.
Once soldiers transition to civilian life, many want to continue serving. The reason, according to Army CPT James Perkins, lies in the very nature of military service. Perkins is a graduate student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and president of the Georgetown University Student Veterans Association (GUSVA). He believes that “the all-volunteer force has a greater collective sense of responsibility and service than the American public.” He remarks that “since 1974, service members have had to choose to volunteer to serve, and inherent in that choice is a wealth of immeasurable and intangible data about many, if not all, service members.” The kind of young people who put their lives on the line for the good of the nation will continue to feel a sense of commitment after they have completed their deployments. Perkins mentions the existence of numerous organizations such as The Mission Continues, which seeks to empower veterans to continue to serve in different ways, as evidence of veterans’ desire to remain engaged even after leaving the military.
For David Maxwell, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who is currently Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, veterans’ high voting rates are a natural outcome of the pledge soldiers make from the very beginning of their training. Maxwell comments: “I think veterans take the responsibility to vote seriously because they believe in the oath they have recited so often, ‘to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ Our Federal Democratic Republic requires engagement by its citizens and for veterans this is a continuation of their service ethos manifested as civic responsibility.”
Veterans not only volunteer in civic organizations, but many also choose careers in public service. They work as paramedics, police, and first-responders, using skills they learned in the military. According to a study by Gregory B. Lewis and Rahul Pathak, veterans are now more than four times as likely as non-veterans to work for the federal government and 10 percent more likely than non-veterans to work for state and local governments. Although preferential treatment for veterans is certainly a factor in this phenomenon, many former military see government employment as a means of continuing to serve the nation. At Georgetown, where 87 percent of student veterans are in graduate programs, two of the most popular fields are Security Studies and Public Policy, both of which tend to lead to jobs in civil service or politics. Although veterans compose only about 3 percent of the entire Georgetown student body, David Maxwell notes that 19 percent of Security Studies students are veterans.
Today record numbers of veterans are becoming entrepreneurs, but even many of these see business as a means to serve, not just to make money. One example is former U.S. Marine Alec Reisberg, whose new company, Match Grade Apparel, produces high quality, American-made clothing and donates a portion of the earnings to military charities. “After I got out of the Marines, I felt I needed to give back,” says Reisberg. “I wanted to do something that would be beneficial for the country and for fellow soldiers and veterans. My wife and I were joking about how uncomfortable the Marines’ dress shoes were, so we set out to make more comfortable, longer-lasting shoes. That’s how we got started.” Now Reisberg is expanding into American-made shirts, hats, and other items that combine comfort and durability with attractive styling. By using American labor and materials and by donating to charity a specific dollar amount for every item sold, Reisberg says he is “filling a void” left by military service. “When you’re on active duty, you have a sense of fulfillment because you’re doing your duty for your country,” he remarks. “When you leave, something is missing. Starting my company helped me get those positive feelings back.”
Got Your Six released its study to combat the misconception that veterans are “broken”–unemployed, homeless, under-educated, and unable to cope with civilian life. Although some veterans do suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, and economic challenges, and these men and women deserve our help and compassion, the vast majority are productive citizens whose contributions strengthen America’s communities. Got Your Six, which means “I’ve got your back” in military jargon, is a coalition of private, government, and non-profit groups that strives to promote a more positive and accurate image of veterans than the one that pervades the media.