As Americans, it’s no secret that we love our military men and women. A few times a year, we come out en masse to thank our active duty military or veterans for their service. Despite this, there are a number of myths about veterans that circulate in our culture.
In the United States, there are 1.4 million people in the military and an additional 22 million more veterans. That’s a sizeable population of dedicated people who have made a tremendous commitment to their country only to sometimes face a backlash born of misunderstandings in the civilian world.
Veterans are sometimes put in a box by those who don’t understand and labeled as villains, victims, or vindicators. Those three categories sweep aside the broad spectrum of veteran experiences and ignore everything veterans have to offer as complex individuals with unique circumstances.
With that in mind, here are the top seven misconceptions that are harmful to veterans, the truth behind the men and women in uniform, and how everyone can fight these myths. Thank you to the LeaderQuest staff and students who have served in the military and shared their experience with us for this piece.
1. All Veterans Have PTSD
“I think one of the most unique situations I was in was when my 18-year-old daughter was giving a report in her high school class that covered my time in the military. One of the comments that was made by her classmate was how I was dealing with my PTSD. She laughed this off but then it turned out the majority of the class believed that all veterans are suffering from PTSD.
My daughter let them know that although it is great that veterans are able to have access to the help they need more so than in the past, not all veterans suffer from PTSD.”
-Charles Marcus, Retired U.S. Air Force, LeaderQuest Student
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is definitely something that affects the veteran community, but it’s not quite as relevant as you might think. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD affects:
- Almost 31% of Vietnam veterans
- As many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
- 11% of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
- 20% of Iraqi war veterans
To sum up, don’t assume that if a person is a vet they have PTSD because it’s simply not true. If someone does tell you they’re suffering from PTSD, understand that they’re trusting you with something important and often misunderstood. That brings us to our next big myth about veterans.
2. PTSD Makes Veterans Unpredictable and Violent
“One of the misconceptions is that we all have PTSD. That we’re all going to suddenly explode some day. Or they have a misconception of what PTSD is . . . popular media oftentimes shades people with military service and what they’ve done and what they’ve been through.”
-James Gross, U.S. Air Force, LeaderQuest Staff
Yes, this is such an important issue that it gets two entries. Merely saying the word PTSD is sure to conjure up images of unbalanced vets about to explode in violent, unpredictable ways. However, this characterization is a gross misrepresentation of the real disorder.
“PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”
What you might not know is that PTSD affects a multitude of people who experience trauma, not just those in the military. Symptoms of PTSD include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of that event, having more negative beliefs because of the trauma, and feeling keyed up/jittery. People with PTSD may have other problems including:
- Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair
- Depression or anxiety
- Drinking or drug problems
- Physical symptoms or chronic pain
- Employment problems
- Relationship problems, including divorce
Even for the population that is affected by this, it’s more likely to cause problems for the sufferer than the people around them. Violence is only prevalent in about 7.5% for PTSD sufferers in the U.S. population and 19.5% in post-9/11 veterans. While that is a little higher, it’s important to note that post-9/11 vets are younger (median age = 34) which meaning they’ve got a higher risk of violence anyway.
One of the biggest problems with this misconception is that it often leads to the idea that veterans with PTSD can’t be trusted with firearms. This simply isn’t true. This can be especially harmful because it’s a barrier for veterans who do suffer from PTSD and want to seek treatment. Many veterans chose not to seek treatment in part due to fear that their guns will be taken away. This can be another unnecessary barrier for people who already have to navigate a difficult mental health system to get help.
Next time you hear someone speaking with authority on how PTSD makes veterans violent, you’ll have the knowledge to step in and explain what’s really going on.
3. Veterans Don’t Think For Themselves
“When people think of a soldier obeying orders, they’re thinking of orders like ‘drop and give me fifty’ that they’ve seen in movies and on TV. In reality, those orders are more likely to be a complicated series of dynamic objectives, any or all of which can and will change as soon as plans meet reality.”
We’ve all heard the stereotype. The vet who’s a mindless drone, completely unable to think for herself. While it’s true that basic training is designed to get those that enter the military putting the good of the group first and understanding the importance of obedience, the idea that veterans don’t have original thoughts is untrue and offensive.
Veterans are put into incredibly complex situations and have to think on their feet. Each unit has its own personality which comes out in unique ways, and getting the job done is most important above all else. This means that veterans are often forced into situations where creative thinking isn’t just good, it’s essential.
So, got a complex problem you’re not sure how to fix? Call on a vet for help. You’ll be glad you did.
4. Female Veterans Don’t Exist/Don’t Do Very Much
“The simple fact that I am a veteran. They assume my husband is a veteran but are shocked that I am too.”
-Mary Walker, U.S. Air Force, LeaderQuest Staff
Women serving on the battlefield aren’t as new as you think and have been kicking butt and taking names for decades. Currently, there are more than 2 million female veterans in the U.S., about 9% of the total veteran population. However, that doesn’t stop many people who can’t seem to wrap their minds around women in service.
While the U.S. Military only announced it would open all combat jobs to women by the end of 2015, the truth is they’ve been on the battlefield for as long as America has been a country. During the Revolutionary War, American Civil War, and Spanish American war women served as nurses, cooks, support staff, and more while others dressed as men to serve in secret.
Women were officially allowed to serve in the military since the last two years of WWI, mostly as nurses, spies, and support staff, and slowly took on more duties through WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam War
In 1976, the first women were allowed to enroll in service academies like Westpoint and during the 90’s women were allowed to fly on combat missions, serve on combat ships, and were deployed to areas like the Persian Gulf. In the last two decades, women have served in more and more positions and Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman awarded the Silver Star for combat action.
The lack of awareness of female veterans is especially problematic because of the issues women have to deal with in post-service life. Female veterans are two to four times as likely as their civilian counterparts to experience homelessness and make up the fastest-growing share of homeless vets. Between 20,000 and 40,000 are homeless. Most, especially those with kids or histories of trauma, couch-surf with friends and relatives as opposed to going to shelters.
So the next time someone asks, “but do women really serve in the military?” feel free to educate them on how much women have contributed to the U.S. military.
5. Vets Are Less Skilled/Able Than Their Civilian Counterparts
In a market with such a strong emphasis on degrees, there are times when veterans are looked down upon simply because of their lack of job experience outside of the military. If you had a job fixing aircraft or defusing roadside bombs in the military, there might not be a lot of direct crossover in your skillset.
However, that doesn’t mean that veterans are less skilled or incapable of learning quickly. Quite the opposite in fact. They know how to problem solve, work on deadlines, and operate under immense pressure. In fact, research from Deloitte found that the veteran workforce is 4 percent more productive and 3 percent less likely to leave the organization.
Veterans often make great employees because they’re honest, notoriously hard workers, candid, and they know how to get things done. The truth is, you’re probably already working alongside great vets right now. Be sure to give them their due and call out their hard work.
6. Some Military Branches are Lesser/Vets Are All the Same
“From an Army point of view, they look at us like, ‘You were in the Army? That’s it?’”
-U.S. Army, LeaderQuest Student
It’s no secret that the different branches of the military like to poke fun at each other, but in the civilian world, certain branches of the military are looked down upon by some. Whether they make fun of the Army, National Guard, or the Air Force, there’s no short supply of shade to be thrown around.
In the end, serving in the military is a huge commitment. Each branch is different because it serves a specific purpose, but each branch also gives members the same loyalty, ability to operate under high-pressure situations, and willingness to do what’s best for the group and get things done.
Veterans also run the risk of attracting anti-government sentiment in general. The truth is that, while veterans do tend to vote more conservative and Republican (and also vote more in general), veterans are not a homogenous group. They have varied opinions on politics and the role of government in general. As for directing anti-government sentiment their way, just don’t. It’s not necessary or appropriate.
7. Getting Hired as a Veteran is Easy
“I thought I could get a job at the drop of a hat because I was told everyone wanted to hire military. I was unemployed for 6-weeks and was throwing my resume at anything and everything.”
-Aaron Kiewicz, U.S. National Guard, LeaderQuest Staff
Transitioning is never easy. There’s the culture shock to navigate and the sudden realization that you no longer have every hour of your day planned out for you. Perhaps the single biggest fear veterans have to deal with is going from a steady paycheck to an uncertain future for them and their families. Issues like having skills that don’t translate, concern for upcoming deployments, and being swayed by negative stereotypes of veterans, can keep veterans out of jobs they might otherwise excel in. On top of that, going from a culture that uses the f-word in excess to an office environment can be difficult.
When veterans are able to find jobs, it can be difficult to find work that is meaningful. For a population of people who had such a strong sense of duty and purpose, going to an environment where that feeling isn’t front and center can be devastating.
So, with all that in mind, what is the solution to helping vets transition into the workforce more smoothly?
Getting Vets Employed in Meaningful Jobs
Fortunately, there is a multitude of groups working to help veterans get into the civilian workforce and transitioning into the next step of their lives. Groups like We Hire Heroes, Operation Homefront, Valor Bridge, and even the USO help with career fairs, practicing interview skills, and resume building to get vets prepped for the next chapter of their lives.
Certifications are also becoming an increasingly viable option for vets who need to demonstrate their abilities to get that first employer to take a chance on them. That’s why cyber security and other IT fields are becoming an increasingly attractive option for vets.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to shattering these misconceptions. The men and women of our armed forces have done so much for us. By disarming these myths that can keep vets from jobs where they excel we take the first step in creating a workforce that is open and accepting of veterans. Not to mention the fact that vets are kick-ass workers, and who among us couldn’t use a few more of those on staff? It’s just common sense, really.