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Veterans surveyed on their needs

Completing an online survey could help Western Pennsylvania's veterans get more of the help they need.

Ben Keen, executive director of Steel City Vets, which is offering the survey on its website, said the survey could help charitable organizations and veterans groups determine how to use donations most effectively.

"There's a lot of people who want to do the right thing, but not a lot of information about veterans," Keen said.

The 39-question survey asks about demographics, military experience, connections to Western Pennsylvania medical providers and other nonprofits, and employment status. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete and was developed by Megan Andros, an Iraq war veteran and Coro Fellow.

Coro, founded in San Francisco in 1942, provides training in leadership skills and has expanded to six cities, including Pittsburgh. Andros, a 2006 West Point grad, could not be reached for comment.

Although various government agencies and veterans groups can "provide chunks of statistical data, there is not significant behavioral and consumer information that will shed light on what veterans themselves say they most care about," said Douglas Root, spokesman for the Heinz Endowments, which hopes to use the survey to increase the money it gives to veterans causes.

"We're starting to get involved in a lot more grant-making for veterans," Root said. "We've gone from none two years ago and now have several."

The survey is not connected to a specific grant, but is part of a broader effort to determine reach of services and need, he said.

"It is a first step to get a sense of size and scope," Root said. "A more scientifically valid survey may be commissioned later based on what this first effort tells us."

More than 200,000 veterans live in Western Pennsylvania, according to the Census Bureau, receiving health care, jobs and tuition assistance and other benefits from county, state and federal agencies.

Any effort that could identify and elaborate on the needs of veterans would be welcomed, said John Ellis, spokesman for The Pittsburgh Foundation.

"We feel (their needs) represent a real need in the community," he said.

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