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The United States has not accounted for its veterans in a nationwide census since 2000 and both Montana veterans and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., are imploring the U.S. Census Bureau to get it done.

Since 2000, Veterans Affairs has provided what it calls “official estimates and projections” by using a mathematical model.

“How can America care for its veterans when America doesn’t know how many veterans it has?” asked Edward E. Saunders, adjutant of Billings Chapter 10 of Disabled American Veterans.

Saunders, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel from Laurel, first raised the issue with Tester and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki during a town hall meeting in Billings in 2011. Saunders has since continued to urge Tester to fight for a count.

This week, saying he believes the nation’s veterans may be undercounted, Tester called on the U.S. Census to conduct an official count of veterans in the 2020 Census.

With approximately 2.5 million Americans having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a historically high number of Guardsmen and reservists, it is imperative to have an accurate count of America’s veterans, especially in historically undercounted rural areas, Tester said.

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With more accurate data, Congress could better ensure that adequate funding is appropriated for community services, such as nursing homes for aging veterans, as well as employment and job services programs that remain in high demand, Tester said.

“In order to provide veterans the services they earned, we have to know how many there are and where they live,” Tester said. “Getting an accurate count of veterans in rural America helps us live up to the promises we made to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country.”

Montana has the nation’s second-highest per capita veteran population, as well as a large population of military retirees. Additionally, it is home to many American Indian veterans, a historically undercounted group, according to Tester. He implored the U.S. Census Bureau to make counting American Indian veterans a “top priority.”

“The short of it is, America doesn’t know for sure how many veterans it has and VA makes it sound like VA knows,” Saunders said.

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