Thursday, June 21, 2012

Public Perception of Veterans Is High, But Stereotypes Persist (Updates)

Results from a recent public survey indicate that the public maintains a high level of trust in veterans, answering that veterans are “valuable assets” to the country. 

Some 86% of respondents ranked specifically veterans who joined since 9/11 highly, in amongst firefighters (94%), nurses (91%), active-duty troops (88%), and doctors (87%).  Veterans tied with teachers and led police officers and small business owners by one point.  In contrast, the poll ranked lawyers at 19%, politicians at 11%, and sports stars and celebrities both at only 5%.

About 64 percent of respondents said they agreed with a statement that "the skills and leadership learned by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can be effectively applied to our communities."  Only 29 percent concurred with the statement: "the skills and leadership learned by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan apply mostly to military situations." . . .
“The public regards these young men and women as future leaders and as community and national assets,” they said.  “Compared to their non-veteran peers, the public finds them more disciplined, having a stronger character and more involved in their communities.”
The study was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Research Strategies, and sponsored by The Mission Continues and Bad Robot Productions, and sampled 801 respondents throughout the country.

These are encouraging figures, particularly when compared to the figures about veterans after the Viet Nam War.  Interestingly, the questions were taken almost verbatim from a Louis Harris poll taken in 1979.  Even then, veterans still came out on the positive side, but these recent results show a marked increase in public sentiment, even though the current results still rank Viet Nam vets below the 9/11 ones.  It is useful in the minds of the Sophisticati to portray veterans of that era as pathetic victims of the government (particularly after the election of Nixon) and of corporations, and the image of such vets in print and on screen has almost persistently shown them this way.  (A notable and sole exception was We Were Soldiers, that details the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965.  Critics gave it a grudging approval and seemed to be bought off by the fact that the movie showed the North Vietnamese in a positive light.  Some critics condemned it for showing anything about the battle or the war in a positive light.)

Unfortunately, the darker side of the study demonstrates that the public still carries a stereotype of a veteran as being under-educated and scarred by post-traumatic stress.  (Like many others in my field and related areas, I don’t consider it necessarily a full disorder, so I don’t automatically use the PTSD term.)

Survey results indicate that just 19 percent of respondents believed that the vets have more education than their non-veteran counterpart while 53 percent agreed with the statement that a majority of returning vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over 90% of those joining the military have high school diplomas.  A GED still needs an additional two years of college because, as I recently heard a Marine recruiter tell a prospect, “it shows that you failed at something, and the college experience demonstrates that you’ve corrected that.”  The MEPS commander in Portland, Oregon told me in 2010 that just less than 30% of the national 17-24 age cohort were qualified to join.  Some 60% of male inductees and 70% of the females have some college experience.

Examples abound, though, about the civilian estimation of military education, even close at hand.  My eldest son is in the Army Ordnance Corps (Heavy Vehicles) and is eminently qualified and highly experienced, yet the public perception is that his experience is “too narrow” to fit into a civilian equivalent (not true).  Another son is a combat medic with the Rangers: I have twice been told by people who should know better that “when” he gets out of the Army (the automatic assumption refuses to believe someone would make a career in the Army), he could go to school to become an EMT.  I patiently explain that the very first item in his training is to qualify as a nationally-accredited EMT, then he moves on to other training, including in his case the Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) course.  He is thus among the most highly qualified emergency medics in the world, yet according to several civilian EMTs I know who are veterans, he would still have to start over with civilian training were he to apply for a civilian job – the military training is just too suspect.  In higher areas of education, post-graduate degrees obtained through military institutions such as the Armed Forces Staff College, the Command and General Staff College, or the Naval Postgraduate School, not to mention the Army or Naval War College, are looked upon in civilian academia as some worthless facsimile from an alternate Bizarro universe.

The survey also found that 53% believed that a majority of returning veterans suffers from PTSD, but VA statistics show that only 22% of males and 17% of females with experience in Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed.  This is an area in which the Therapy Industry has found a lucrative sinecure: press reports publicise how so many more veterans are now diagnosed with PTSD but fail to ask whether this is a function of increased victims or rather a more ready willingness to diagnose simple stress or depression as a full-blown disorder.  There are reports of the elevated suicide rates among the troops, without explaining that the numbers were compared to the general public; if those same numbers were compared more accurately to the civilian population of young males in that age category, the distinction vanished, or even conceivably could be lower.

This became a cause célèbre early on in the two Middle East operations because it fit so nicely into the social and political perspective of the Left.  Some 600 therapists were dispatched to Iraq to seek out victims; if a soldier denied being afflicted, that was a sure sign that he was in denial – a key indicator in the therapists' book.  Diagnoses in theater started rising despite the fact that it is typical for true PTSD to be a delayed onset affliction, so it wouldn’t usually show up until the soldier was taken out of the environment and returned home.  This rush to make everybody a victim, even those who had never seen combat, robs true victims of the disorder from a professional approach that they need.

This rush to judgment, or a snug comfort in previous prejudices, creates a continuance of negative attitudes about returning veterans:
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 30 percent of veterans ages 18-24 are unemployed – nearly twice the national average compared to their non-veteran counterparts.  Though we could point to transitional program shortfalls as a contributor to this unconscionable figure, we must also ask whether we have actually succeeded in dispelling the negative stigma associated with military mental health, or whether all of the attention has only exacerbated the problem, further degrading the public's perception of today's veterans. [emphasis mine]
One of the unique ideas introduced by the newly United States after their Revolution was the concept of the citizen soldier, a ready militia and standing military drawn from the populace, taking advantage of the fresh perspective of a citizenry fighting for what is right in their eyes, not a lumpen body of troops beholden only to the sovereign.  We have one of the most professional and highly trained militaries in the world, which requires not only our respect but the support and understanding of our people.

Update:  The press is eager to find some sort of military connection to any criminal shooter, and this is one of the most pernicious stereotypes that it perpetuates.  To an enormous extent, this is simply not true, yet it persists.

Update:  And again...

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