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Serving Those Who Served: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Assisting Veterans and Military Families

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Serving Those Who Served: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Assisting Veterans and Military Families

Aid for veterans, military servicemembers, and their families is a comparatively new and very fast-growing branch of American philanthropy.Alas, there is lit- tle good information available for donors to help them be wise in their giving. According to the new book With Charity for All, fully 60,000 nonprofits have the word “veterans” in their name, and a Defense Department white paper estimates that a total of 400,000 service organizations in one way or another touch veterans or men and women who are still serving. Within this blizzard of choices there are some wonderful and highly productive organizations. There are also lots of feckless and even counterproductive undertakings.

This book will help donors assess the field. It is especially oriented toward helping the latest, post-9/11, generation of veterans. And we make particular efforts to illuminate the places where private funding can act more effectively than government—which pours more than $140 billion into veterans every year, but not very flexibly, and with many gaps. Our main purpose is to help philanthropists make certain their gifts go beyond sentimental support, and actually aid a population that every good American wants to see prosper.

There is much alarmism about veterans today. “Judging from media accounts, I’m the rare American veteran who isn’t homeless, homicidal, or suicidal. . . .” started a recent essay in the Atlantic by former soldier James Joyner. Much of this gloomy commentary is inaccurate or misleading.

For instance, a definitive government study released in 2013 found that while suicides among veterans rose 10 percent from 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among the overall population rose much faster during that same period—up 31 percent. And two-thirds of veteran suicides are among those 50 years and older, suggesting the biggest problem is not among men and women deployed since 9/11.

As a group, it is much more accurate to think of veterans as a national asset than as a national problem, or set of victims. Nearly 6 million Americans have served in the military since the 9/11 attacks: 2.8 million of them are still serving; 3.2 million are civilians as of early 2013. Some of those civilian veterans are in college, at home raising children, or retired; of those who are in the labor force, more than 90 percent are employed.

The annual earnings of all U.S. veterans are 12–15 percent higher than the earnings of non-veterans.Their poverty rate is only a little more than half the overall rate.

None of this is surprising when you notice that veterans rank higher than the general population in levels of intelligence, physical fitness, avoiding a criminal record, finishing high school, and attending college. To help you sep- arate realities from the many myths about veterans in circulation today, we have included at the end of this book a set of vital statistics. You’ll find clear data on the topics above, as well as others like physical health, mental health, family status, and so forth.

While those who have served in the military are—on the whole—in bet- ter shape than comparable non-veterans, there are many individuals who need and deserve help. Foremost among these are the men and women who were injured during their service. In this book, we lay out six areas where there are opportunities for public-spirited donors to aid veterans. In all of these areas, donors and charitable groups are already making progress, though both the successes and the remaining gaps vary a lot by region.

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