- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2015

Veterans are more likely than similar civilians to volunteer more hours, to vote consistently and to serve in civic organizations, according to a report released Thursday that advocates hope will counteract the perception of veterans as “broken heroes.”

The report found that veterans, even those who may be struggling with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, are eager to contribute to their communities and can make neighborhoods safer and friendlier.

“For years, we’ve been working to make sure veterans are perceived as leaders and assets. Now we have empirical evidence,” said Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, a veterans group that sponsored the report. “The statement that veterans are civic assets is no longer an opinion; it’s a fact, and it’s backed up by data.”

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In addition to volunteering more hours annually — 160 for an average veteran volunteer compared with 120 for a civilian — veterans are more likely to trust most of their neighbors, the report found. Veterans also are more likely to vote in local elections, contact their public officials and discuss politics frequently with families and friends.

Many veterans aren’t sure where to turn after leaving the military and will gravitate toward any group that can give them direction and give a sense of purpose, said Mary Beth Bruggeman, southeast executive director for the Mission Continues, a group that lets veterans volunteer to use their first-responder skills when natural disasters strike.

“That desire to be part of a team again, the desire to have a new unit after you leave your active-duty unit, is very strong,” she said.

Former service members came under fire this week after a CNN anchorwoman suggested that veterans who left the service and became police officers may be partly to blame for law-enforcement violence against minority communities around the country.

“I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities and they’re ready to do battle,” Brooke Baldwin said live on air while reporting on the riots in Baltimore.

John W. Stroud, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called Ms. Baldwin’s comments insulting to those who served the country in the military and urged others to contact CNN to voice their disgust. Ms. Baldwin has since issued an on-air apology.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat and Iraq War veteran who still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard, said serving in the military gives veterans a perspective on life that allows a person to cut through a lot of the political “noise” to get to the heart of issues that really matter.

Although veterans are more likely than others to serve in civic organizations, lawmakers with military backgrounds are still in the minority in Congress. About 18 percent of lawmakers in the 114th Congress are veterans, a sharp decline from the early 1970s, when nearly three-quarters of all members had served in the military.

Ms. Gabbard, one of the veteran lawmakers who was part of the nearly 19-hour debate on the annual defense policy bill that stretched into the early morning hours Thursday, said one reason the hearing was so long is that more veterans are joining Congress and bringing their unique perspectives to military policy on Capitol Hill.

“It was a very robust conversation that was based on real, firsthand experience — not something that we heard in a briefing,” she said.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, who said he has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others since graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, urged civilians to find the best way to use the talents of veterans who are eager to find purposes in life after the military.

“They have learned to put service before self, to bridge differences to accomplish shared goals,” he said. “What they now need is a new purpose. At a time when our country faces so many challenges, we need to make the most of what veterans have to offer.”

In addition to findings that show veterans are generally more engaged in their communities than civilians, the report evaluated statistics on veteran employment and homelessness to try to combat misconceptions that veterans are part of a struggling group that needs handouts. Of the nearly 580,000 homeless people across the country, only about 50,000 are veterans.

The report also found that veterans younger than 50, almost half of whom are post-9/11 veterans, are far more diverse than those older than 50, who predominantly served during the Vietnam War era.

Younger veterans are 2.8 times more likely to be women, 2.3 times more likely to be of Hispanic origin and 1.6 times more likely to be black.

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