Most Americans who haven’t worn a uniform or had a loved one who served think about veterans maybe once or twice a year — during national holidays or when they happen see a yellow ribbon sticker on the bumper of a car. What they don’t know is that veterans are all around them: leading PTA meetings, serving as elected officials and volunteering at the local community center.

In fact, veterans are America’s greatest — if sometimes overlooked — civic asset.

Witnessing engagement

The idea of “civic health” may seem as old fashioned as a landline telephone, but in practice, it’s popping up in headlines across the country. We’re seeing it when our citizens respond to help one another in the aftermath of natural disasters. We’re seeing it during the current climate of intense political and societal debates. And we’re witnessing it during protests and rallies happening in small towns and big cities throughout America.

Civic health is deeply entwined in all of these things, so it’s important to recognize that when people are civically engaged, they’re happier and healthier, and their communities are stronger. And it turns out, along of number of key indicators, the most civically engaged population in the country are our veterans.

Looking at the data

Got Your 6 tracks this data through our annual Veterans Civic Health Index, and year after year we’ve found that veterans are more civically engaged than their non-veteran counterparts.

“It’s important to recognize that when people are civically engaged, they’re happier and healthier, and their communities are stronger.”

In our most recent report, we looked specifically at six important engagement indicators: volunteering, voting, attending public meetings, working with neighbors to solve problems in the community, giving to charity and contacting public officials. On all of these indicators, veterans outperform their civilian peers.

Putting in the time

The report also demonstrates that veterans’ civic engagements are both broad and deep. Take, for example, volunteering. While veterans are just slightly more likely to volunteer than non-veterans, they rack up an average of 43 more hours of volunteer time annually than their non-veteran peers. That’s an entire extra workweek of service that communities get out of the average veteran volunteer.

We also note that veterans are active participants in both national and local elections. The data show that almost 74 percent of veterans always or sometimes vote in local elections, compared to about 57 percent of non-veterans.

Returning the favor

Our report reinforces something Got Your 6 and our coalition partners already know: Veterans don’t stop serving our country when they take off the uniform.

Veterans are leaders and civic assets, and — most importantly — they’re looking for new ways to tackle our nation’s problems. As a society, we must not only recognize and thank them for their continued service, we must work to create opportunities to empower veterans to lead our country forward and make our communities even stronger.