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CNAS Releases Assessment of Issues Facing Veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania

By Neal Urwitz, [email protected]

Washington, November 18 – A new assessment by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) published today finds that Pittsburgh area veterans are struggling with issues pertaining to education, access to benefits and economic security immediately after leaving military service.

The report, “Needs Assessment: Veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania,” commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, also found that the region’s 235,000 veterans differ dramatically in how they feel about veterans benefits and their own well-being depending on whether they served before 9/11 or after. The study was authored by CNAS researchers Phillip Carter and Katherine Kidder.

This mixed methods study provides a comprehensive portrait of veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest and densest veterans communities. CNAS researchers used cutting-edge analytical tools from the Veterans Data Project to better understand the population, leveraging public data sets made available by DoD, VA, and the Census Bureau to understand macro-level trends in the area. In addition to this data, the CNAS team conducted interviews and working group discussions with individuals representing more than 50 public, private and nonprofit sector organizations serving veterans in the region, and conducted surveys of area veterans as well.

Key findings of the report include:
The Southwest Pennsylvania region is home to approximately 235,000 veterans, making up roughly 1 percent of the national veterans population. CNAS estimates that approximately 37,400 post-9/11 veterans live in the region, and that approximately 5,200 new veterans move to the region each year after completing military service.

In 2015, Gulf War-era veterans (defined as those who served in 1990 and after) will overtake Vietnam-era veterans as the largest segment of the veterans population. Post-9/11 veterans differ from pre-9/11 veterans in their perceptions of the veterans landscape, the utility of veterans benefits, and their own wellness.

On average, post-9/11 veterans report serving longer on active duty, and are more likely to use VA benefits, including disability compensation, educational support, health care, and home mortgage assistance, than pre-9/11 veterans. However, post-9/11 veterans view the utility of benefits and their own wellness more negatively than pre-9/11 veterans.

Nearly one-third of veterans surveyed by CNAS reported some unemployment during the preceding 12 months. Approximately one-third of all veterans (32 percent) reported being slightly or significantly “less economically secure” than when they had initially left active duty. This finding was more pronounced for post-9/11 veterans. This suggests that transition and economic success may become harder, the further out from discharge veterans are. Further, the CNAS report suggests that the “skills translation” approach used by many veterans employment programs may contribute to underemployment among veterans, and that programs emphasizing education or training may produce better long-term outcomes for veterans.

Veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania use their GI Bill benefits at substantially lower rates than the national average. Just 6.5 percent of area veterans use GI Bill benefits, as compared to 8.4 percent nationally. VA data indicates that educational outcomes vary widely by institution in the region, ranging from an 11 percent graduation rate at the Art Institute’s online division to an 88 percent graduation rate at Carnegie Mellon University.
Approximately two-thirds of veterans surveyed reported being members of a veterans service organization; roughly 30 percent say they are members of a charity or service group. However, only about half of the veterans say they feel connected to their community, reflecting a civil-military divide that persists after service.

There are significant problems with coordination between public, private, and non-profit organizations serving veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania. Veterans generally know about veteran benefits and services in their community, but do not have a high degree of confidence in these benefits or services. In fact, just 38 percent of veterans say they are satisfied with veteran services in their area. Veterans surveyed give local community services an average grade on meeting veterans’ community integration needs.

Veteran homelessness in Southwest Pennsylvania is among the lowest in the nation, indicating that social services directed toward this issue are making a significant impact.

CNAS researchers conducted this study with a grant from The Heinz Endowments, which commissioned this assessment of veterans community needs to assist in planning future philanthropic investment.

“This report provides important information that will help us and area service providers better understand where the highest needs are for our returning servicemen and servicewomen and where dollars should be allocated,” said Heinz Endowments’ PresidentGrant Oliphant. “It underscores our belief that veterans are a vital part of the region’s fabric and deserve every opportunity to succeed after they return home from service.”

To produce this report, the CNAS team conducted its research between September 2014 and August 2015 for this report, including interviews or working group discussions from representatives of more than 50 public, private, and nonprofit sector organizations serving veterans in the region.

“Most veterans come home to communities across America – including Southwest Pennsylvania – and do quite well,” said Phillip Carter, a CNAS senior fellow and lead author of the study. “However, pockets of need exist across the landscape, and it is vital that public, private and philanthropic actors use studies like this one to identify those pockets in order to focus resources and best serve veterans.”

The full report is available at:
http://www.cnas.org/veterans-assessment-southwest-pennsylvania

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