August 21, 2019

Survey of Municipal Veteran Services

Executive Summary

In partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) surveyed its member cities to assess the needs of veterans, as well as successes and challenges in providing services to veterans, at the municipal level. This report provides a descriptive analysis of the perceived challenges cities face in supporting veterans, as well as emerging best practices.

Mayors around the country shared similar concerns about affordable housing, homelessness, and employment opportunities for veterans; were keenly interested in learning how communities can better support those who have served our nation; and identified best practices which could be exported to other cities.

  • The top challenges cities identified – affordable housing, employment options, and homelessness – are largely interrelated and not unique to veterans.
  • Respondents also highlighted additional challenges for veterans, including navigating the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system, transitioning to civilian life, and accessing health services (i.e., suicide prevention, mental health services, and behavioral health issues).
  • Over half (59 percent) of cities had a plan in place to address their top identified challenge over the next 24 months, but expected less than 20 percent of the funding to address this issue to come from the cities themselves.
  • The majority of cities reported working with VA offices but overwhelmingly selected increased integration and coordination with additional state and federal agencies as the most promising initiative to better support veterans.
  • Cities cited support to nonprofits and affordable housing as two other initiatives to launch or improve upon to better support veterans in their communities.
  • Nearly two-thirds of responding cities reported they do not have an office or an individual dedicated to veteran services. Nearly 80 percent of small cities have neither, compared with only 20 percent of large cities.
  • Of the cities that responded, over one-third did not know how many veterans resided in their jurisdiction. Smaller cities were more likely not to have this information than medium or large cities.
  • Inadequate resourcing was a constant barrier noted in the survey: Program effectiveness or even existence was stifled due to funding shortfalls.

After analyzing cities’ self-identified municipal best practices and considering previous research, this report offers these recommendations for cities:

  • Designate an individual or establish an office dedicated to veteran issues if they have not already done so.
  • Conduct a needs assessment of local veterans to identify challenges and issues within the community and establish which resources veterans require.
  • Raise awareness of existing veteran services and foster greater collaboration.
  • Offer transportation services for disadvantaged veterans to obtain other services.
  • Provide a “one-stop shop” veteran resource center.

This paper begins by providing a brief background of veteran demographic trends in the United States. The second section explains the methodology used to develop, field, and analyze the survey in collaboration with Comcast NBCUniversal and USCM. The third through sixth sections, respectively, detail top-level demographic background on the veteran population of cities that participated in the survey; municipal-level organizational alignment supporting veterans in participating cities; perceived challenges veterans face and challenges cities face providing services to veterans; and city successes supporting veterans and potential initiatives. The final section draws high-level conclusions and offers recommendations for cities to better serve their veteran populations.


The Department of Defense (DoD) employs nearly 2.1 million service members (1.3 million activeduty service members and 800,000 reserve forces). Each year, approximately 200,000 service members separate from the military, joining the roughly 20 million veterans living throughout the United States today. The U.S. veteran population is steadily shrinking, with half of all veterans now residing in just 10 states and an increasing trend of veterans’ moving to Southern and Western states. However, communities across the country have residents who are veterans, as shown in Figure 1; in large part they are integrated into communities and often an invisible demographic.

In terms of dollars spent and numbers served, the majority of government programs delivering services to veterans are federal. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) remains the largest provider of health care, disability benefits, educational benefits, home loan guarantees, and other services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration, and other agencies also provide various types of support to veterans. State and county efforts offer a range of services as well, though support varies widely depending on location, size, and capacity.

Percentage of the U.S. Veteran Population by State

An underexplored area of research is the role that cities play in supporting veterans. This report represents an initial effort to bridge that knowledge gap by presenting and analyzing the results of a survey of mayors, a research project made possible by the collaboration of Comcast NBCUniversal, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

There has been no national survey of veterans since 2010, either by the VA or Census Bureau, and this survey did not comprehensively assess veterans’ needs. Other research shows somewhat contradictory data on veterans’ status. For example, veterans are historically overrepresented in the U.S. homeless population and die by suicide at rates higher than those who have never served. However, they also have higher education levels, lower rates of poverty, higher rates of civic participation, and higher median earnings than nonveterans. Understanding what issues municipalities see as most challenging for veterans is valuable for the broader community of those who serve veterans: It provides important perspective on how veterans are viewed and offers insight into the services and benefits cities plan to prioritize.

The survey sought information from mayors or their designated representative on: (1) demographics of responding cities and their veteran populations; (2) organizational alignment on the city, county, state, and federal levels and with nonprofit and private partners; (3) challenges veterans face at the municipal level and obstacles to addressing these challenges; (4) cities’ successes and best practices. Appendix A includes the complete survey, Appendix B lists all participating cities, and Appendix C shares additional survey results.

This report provides a descriptive analysis of the respondents’ perceptions regarding challenges veterans in their communities face and barriers to supporting veterans that cities encounter. The analysis was not designed to assess the validity of pre-existing theories or whether city-level perceptions of the challenges veterans face align with other data sources. Different-size cities have different demographic and resource challenges and should likely be analyzed distinctly from one another; due to the small sample sizes, this report is unable to assess every issue in this manner. However, commonalities among responses from an array of cities help illustrate challenges cities face as well as identify successes that foster solutions in supporting the veteran population.

The following section explains the development of the survey instrument in partnership with USCM and the completed survey responses used as the basis for this descriptive analysis.

Download the full paper.

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  1. “Military Active-Duty Personnel, Civilians by State,” Governing (September 30, 2017),
  2. Kristy N. Kamarck, “Military Transition Assistance Program (TAP): An Overview,” CRS 7-5700 (Congressional Research Service, July 12, 2018), 2,; and United States Census Bureau, “U.S. and World Population Clock,”
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Veteran Population Projections 2017-2037 (VetPop2016),” 2016.
  4. Westat, “National Survey of Veterans, Active Duty Service Members, Demobilized National Guard and Reserve Members, Family Members, and Surviving Spouses,” Final Report Deliverable 27 (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2010),
  5. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress (December 2018), 1,; and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA National Suicide Data Report 2005-2016 (September 2018),
  6. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Profile of Veterans: 2015 (March 2017), 9,


  • Emma Moore

    Former Research Associate

    Emma Moore is a former Research Associate at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Moore is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creati...

  • Jared Stefani

    Former Research Intern, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

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  • Kayla M. Williams

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Kayla M. Williams is a former Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)....

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