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Aerographer's Mate Kirk Hying, left, and Sean Mitchell work together to load a cabinet on to a rental truck while volunteering with Crusaders for Veterans Inc. in this undated file photo. The volunteers were assisting homeless veteran Brenda Chorba move into a new home after she spent the past 14 months living in her car.
Aerographer's Mate Kirk Hying, left, and Sean Mitchell work together to load a cabinet on to a rental truck while volunteering with Crusaders for Veterans Inc. in this undated file photo. The volunteers were assisting homeless veteran Brenda Chorba move into a new home after she spent the past 14 months living in her car. (Amanda McCoy/MCT)

WASHINGTON — A new report on veterans’ civic engagement reflects the tension within an advocacy community that is pushing for increased opportunities for those who served while battling the notion that veterans are broken and in need of help.

The 2015 Veterans Civic Health Index is a smorgasbord of numbers that its authors say shows that veterans are more civically engaged than their non-veteran peers. Through data gleaned from the Census Bureau, it concludes that veterans volunteer, vote and trust their neighbors more than other Americans do. It also claims that veterans are more likely to be part of a “community organization,” although that definition includes veterans service organizations.

Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, a veterans advocacy group that co-sponsored the study, said the point is to show that veterans are an asset, not a burden.

“There’s a difference between wanting to help veterans and wanting veterans to help your community,” he said.

Giving the opening remarks at the report’s unveiling Wednesday, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald said reports such as the Civic Health Index are important to increase non-veteran’s understanding of those who have served.

“They need to know what veterans have experienced and what they accomplished and, more importantly, what they can accomplish,” he said.

The report also downplays some serious veterans’ issues, such as homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Veterans only comprise 8.6 percent of the current homeless population, with non-veterans comprising 91.4 percent,” the report says. While the wording indicates that veterans are underrepresented, only about 7 percent of Americans are veterans, so by the index’s own measure, veterans actually experience homeless at a higher rate than others.

Another section on PTSD provides numbers that show veterans experience it at a far higher rate than the general public, but emphasizes a much different point.

“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 11-20 percent of veterans experience PTSD,” according to the report. “Even when considering the highest end of this broad spectrum, it is still true that the vast majority of veterans do not experience PTSD.”

While not commenting specifically on the report, Jack Downing, president of Soldier On, which provides housing and support for homeless veterans, said there is a tension between acknowledging the unique issues faced by veterans and dispelling damaging stereotypes.

“In the community that serves the individuals, we see people’s brokenness as their gifts and the bureaucracy sees their brokenness as their defect,” he said.

Marvin said the report is simply aimed at giving communities data to help them reintegrate veterans and show what veterans have to offer.

“Far from putting veterans on a pedestal, it is (showing) how military veterans are strengthening our community,” he said. “It is a great message, better than thinking of veterans as a distinct class of broken heroes.”

Tom McAlister, a spokesman for Got Your 6, said the report helps correct misperceptions that many Americans have about veterans and pointed to an earlier Got Your 6 survey in which nearly half of respondents associated a picture of a homeless man with a veteran.

“We feel these facts are completely objective and properly sourced,” he said in an email response. “We believe that the way they are stated represents a neutral take on the data, that is, there is no spin.”

druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes

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