Former Utah VA head says veterans are being miscounted, gets Chaffetz to help

OGDEN — Utah’s former Veterans Affairs director just wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask the public a simple question — maybe two.

It’s a question (or two) that hasn’t been asked on the official Census questionnaire since 2000 and Terry Schow has been on a two-year mission to make sure it’s asked for the 2020 Census.

“When they send out the questionnaire, why can’t they include a question that asks, ’Are you a veteran?’ ” asked Schow. “That’s the main one, but they should also ask ’Are you a disabled veteran?’ That’s all we’re really trying to get done.”

The Ogden resident and veteran of the Vietnam conflict says that the current counting method doesn’t quite add up. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, veteran status is not collected on the decennial census questionnaire, a change that was introduced during the 2010 Census. 

Currently, the bureau collects demographic, social and economic data on veterans from the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. But those surveys poll only a portion of the U.S. population. The ACS, which is the largest survey other than the decennial census, is sent to approximately 3.5 million people per year — about 10 percent of the current population.

“Those surveys are great, but there should be a hard count,” Schow said. “Just modify the questionnaire to ask about veteran status and I think we take a huge step toward greater accuracy.” 

In this case, Schow says, accuracy is paramount. Census data affects legislation and spending on veteran housing, hospitals and assistance programs. According to an infographic released by the Census Bureau on Veterans Day in 2015, Utah has a veterans population of 143,771. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which uses a projection model developed by the Office of the Actuary to count veterans, says the state has 151,719 veterans.  

But Schow, who served as executive director of the Utah VA from 2001 to 2013, says both of those numbers are wrong. 

Utah has its own independent database that tracks the number of veterans living in the Beehive State. The database, which Schow helped create, utilizes the Utah Department of Information Technology and collects information from the Department of Workforce Services and the Utah Drivers License Division.

The state’s database says Utah has approximately 190,000 veterans, Schow said. 

Schow has been trying to bring this issue to light since 2014. After two years of fighting to be heard, he now says he has a pretty influential ear listening to him.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has been working with Schow to draft some legislation that would require the Census Bureau to add the veteran status questions to the decennial census questionnaire. Chaffetz chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees Census Bureau activities.

“This is a very viable idea and I am pursuing it,” Chaffetz said last week. “Quite frankly, I don’t see why they wouldn’t ask those questions, especially looking at some of the other questions that are asked.”

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