In his State of the State address last month, Gov. Neil Abercrombie mentioned military veterans a number of times.

The governor said Hawaii’s veterans deserve “our respect and our support for their sacrifices,” and he listed ways in which his administration is helping veterans in areas like treatment, counseling, housing and farming.

“Just look around you, one out of every 10 people in Hawaii is a veteran,” Abercrombie said. “It is vitally important for us to take care of them.”

Really? One in 10?

Hawaii’s population, as of July 2012, was 1,392,313.

If Abercrombie is correct, that means there are 139,000 veterans living in the islands.

Here’s how the U.S. Census Bureau defines a veteran:

“Veterans are men and women who have served (even for a short time), but are not currently serving, on active duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard, or who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. People who served in the National Guard or Reserves are classified as veterans only if they were ever called or ordered to active duty, not counting the 4-6 months for initial training or yearly summer camps. All other civilians are classified as nonveterans. …”

To find out how many vets live in Hawaii, we checked with the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Public Affairs Officer Patricia Matthews said one out of 10 sounded like “a conservative number.”

To be sure, however, Matthews directed us to Ron Han, director of Hawaii’s Office of Veterans Services. Han, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who also served with the Air National Guard, agreed with Matthews that the 10 percent figure is conservative.

But counting how many vets live here is a challenge, Han said. For example, there are veterans who served in Vietnam that have elected “for whatever reason” not to be part of the VA’s pension of benefits programs. There is also some confusion about whether people who were dishonorably discharged should still be counted veterans.

The Census counts veterans, but Han said there aren’t updated figures. The last estimate for Hawaii, from 2007-2011, was 114,109.

Meanwhile, as mapped out on the Veteran Population Projection Model 2011, Hawaii’s veteran population was 116,844.

Here’s how it breaks down as of Sept. 12, according to the most recent data available:

Wartime Veterans: 93,208
Gulf War: 47,683
Vietnam Era: 34,374
Korean Conflict: 10,407
World War II: 5,087
Peacetime: 23,636
Female: 14,204
Male: 102,640

It would appear that the total figure of 116,844 veterans is shy of the 10 percent figure the governor mentioned.

Not necessarily, said Han.

He said the actual number is almost certainly higher, and growing. What’s contributing to the increase is the drawdown in Iraq and the planned drawdown in Afghanistan beginning next year. Sequestration and federal budget constraints, as Han explained it, means “more people will be coming out of uniform and going into veteran status.”

The evidence of the growing local veteran population, he said, is not just anecdotal. Han’s office has averaged between 50,000 to 55,000 contacts with local veterans annually, but in 2012 the figure increased to 64,000.

“We’ve got a packed room here every day,” said Han. “It is very evident to us that there is a high volume of veterans in Hawaii.”

“I really believe that anything from 120,000 to 140,000 is probably the right range,” he said. “I am a veteran myself, and we are not trying to embellish numbers. … We are trying to increase our levels of support, and the numbers of veterans that need support are not going down. We can barely meet what we can do today.”

It was Han’s office that provided the “one in 10” figure to Major General Darryll Wong, Abercrombie’s state adjutant general.

“We stand by what the governor said,” said Han. “We are living it and serving these veterans every day.”

BOTTOM LINE: For Abercrombie’s statement on veterans’ number to be true, the facts would have to support the claim. In fact, the facts pretty much support the claim, but important information is missing — that is, that the 1-in-10 figure is an estimate. The claim is thus slightly misleading — and, as Han notes, a bit aimed at plumping up support for veterans — and that prompts Civil Beat to conclude this Fact Check to be MOSTLY TRUE.

About the Author