Veterans: America's Greatest Assets

Posted September 30, 2016 by Julia Tivald

To a lot of people, civic health can seem a bit obscure as a term. But in practice, we see it popping up all over and making headlines across the country. We’re on the heels of the first presidential debate, in the midst of an intense election season that has people discussing politics at higher rates. We’re also witnessing social uprisings like the powerful protests in Charlotte last week. Civic health is deeply entwined in all of these things, so it’s as important as ever to have thoughtful conversations on this topic.

To summarize a large body of research on civic health: simply put, when people are civically engaged, they are happier and healthier, and their communities are stronger. As such, civic health data can be an important tool for anyone interested in social change– those in the private and nonprofit sectors, policymakers and elected officials, community organizers and activists.

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What we’ve created with the Veterans Civic Health Index (VCHI)—which is the only report of its kind—is a means to measure the civic health of the veteran population. For the second consecutive year, the VCHI shows that veterans are more civically engaged than non-veterans.

In this year’s report, we looked specifically at six important engagement indicators: volunteering, voting, attending public meetings, working with neighbors to solve problems in the community, giving to charity, and contacting public officials. On all of these indicators, veterans outperform their non-veteran peers.

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The VCHI also shows us that veterans’ engagement profiles are both broad and deep. Broad meaning veterans engage in a variety of ways in their communities. And deep meaning they devote significant time to doing so. For example, take volunteering: Veterans are slightly more likely to volunteer than non-veterans. But when we look at the number of hours they volunteer annually, we can get a better sense of the depth of that engagement – veterans volunteer, on average 43 more hours annually than non-veterans. That’s an entire extra workweek of service!

It’s also important to note that veterans are avid participants in both national and local elections. The VCHI shows that almost 74 percent of veterans always or sometimes vote in local elections. That’s compared to about 57 percent of non-veterans. This data is particularly important to us now as we try to engage all Americans in this election cycle. We can use this data as a means to challenge non-veterans to meet veterans’ level of engagement and get out to vote in November.

Altogether, the VCHI shows us that veterans are continuing to strengthen their communities at higher rates than non-veterans. That’s why Got Your 6 and our coalition partners consider veteran reintegration to be an enormous opportunity.

It’s impossible to talk about veteran reintegration without considering civic engagement because veterans return home to communities—to their friends, families, and neighbors. Veterans are looking for new ways to serve and communities are looking for leaders to tackle local problems. Recognizing this connection—this symbiotic relationship between veterans and communities—allows us to support successful veteran reintegration while making our communities stronger at the same time.

Julia Tivald is the Director of Strategy at Got Your 6.