Statement: “San Diego is the 17th largest city in America but we have the third largest concentration of veterans in the country,” Phil Landis, president and CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego, said on KPBS’s “Midday Edition ” on July 14.
Analysis: With a sizable military community, San Diego faces an ongoing challenge in serving service members as they readjust to civilian life.
Every year, roughly 15,000 sailors and Marines stationed in San Diego leave the service, and Navy and Marine Corp officials estimate about half of them stay in the region (no VA official or veterans support group representative I spoke with could provide an estimate that includes members of the Air Force and Army in San Diego). To be sure, service members make up a big part of the population and require a substantial portion of our resources.
Veterans Village of San Diego CEO Phil Landis wanted to drive that point home during an interview on KPBS, where he was promoting Stand Down, a three-day event to help homeless veterans.
Let’s quickly dispose of the first piece of his claim: San Diego isn’t the 17th largest city in America. By population, it’s the eighth, with a little more than 1.3 million people , according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Veterans Village staff said Landis misspoke on that point.
We’re going to zoom in on the next piece of Landis’ statement: “we have the third largest concentration of veterans in the country … ” If true, his claim could give us an idea whether San Diego is doling out enough funding or attention to serve this population adequately.
The U.S. Census Bureau and VA estimate veteran populations by county, not city. Eric Busboom at the San Diego Regional Data Library crunched the Census numbers for us. Census data show that San Diego County has the third-highest raw number of veterans of any county in the country – nearly 236,000. Los Angeles County and Maricopa County, Ariz., are higher.
But Landis erred when he said San Diego had the third-highest concentration of veterans in the country. By that measure, San Diego County falls way down on the list. About 10 percent of San Diego’s population is estimated to be veterans. That puts San Diego 1,854th out of 3,144 counties – not third.
Though they have far smaller populations over the age of 18 than San Diego, Pulaski County in Missouri and Liberty County in Georgia have the two highest concentrations of veterans, with 28 and 26 percent, respectively.
Veterans Village development manager Rick Ochocki said the organization examined VA data and this heat map  to eyeball the claim that San Diego had the third most veterans in the country. The organization had not examined the population density of veterans across the country.
Ochocki said his organization’s tunnel vision in part contributed to the flub.
“People always come to us for comment on the larger veteran population, but we work with a specialized subset of veterans,” Ochocki said. Veterans Village of San Diego specifically works with homeless veterans who have struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. “We don’t have data overall.”
We understand that Landis was simply trying to make a point that there are a lot of veterans in our community. There are. But the way he phrased it is inaccurate. San Diego County does have the third-highest population of veterans, but it doesn’t come close to having the third-densest. The statement is false.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.