Quick, when you think of veterans on this Veterans Day, what comes to mind? Honor? Valor? Loyalty? Ticking time bomb?
For many, it’s the latter, and that can pose a problem when veterans return from the battlefield.
A recent nationwide survey found that even though most Americans respect service men and women, they also have several misperceptions about them. For instance, Stars and Stripes reported that veterans are often considered poorly educated and potentially violent, and according to a 2012 poll, more than half of the public thinks that the majority of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Veterans are also thought to have alcohol and substance abuse problems and few, if any, work-related skills.
Some vets have some of these issues, but many more do not. But because these stereotypes are so deep-seated, many veterans have a hard time finding a job, being admitted to and excelling in college, and, sad to say, feeling at home in their own country.
So why do we harbor these stereotypes about these men and women returning from conflict zones, and why are they now being shut out from the way of life for which they fought so hard?
A growing body of evidence suggests that vets may have a harder time coming home than being at war partly because they have been in a different world and have experienced things that non-vets will never understand. Although that may seem obvious, this “misunderstanding” is at the root of the problem, and it undermines the employability of veterans.
In 2013, the nationwide unemployment rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 was 9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In Texas that number is 8.7 percent, which is up from 8.3 percent in 2012 and much higher than the 2013 average unemployment rate of 6.3 percent for all Texans.
I’ve worked for several years with military service members and researched their quality of life experiences after they are discharged. It’s important to separate fact from fiction, and the truth is that regardless of whether they were enlisted service members or officers, veterans often have leadership skills beyond their years and are dedicated to accomplishing the mission at hand. Because of this, most make excellent employees and students.
They may need help with study skills and navigating the workplace, but they learn quickly and strive to excel.
The first thing we ought to be doing to begin to help veterans is simply understanding them and becoming a good colleague or friend by offering support. Some veterans may have problems being in crowded places and won’t want to go to the mall on the weekend or to the grocery store at peak times.
It would be wise for employers to help veterans find a social network of people who will try to understand their unique situation and listen to them if they need to talk.
Veterans are often stereotyped as rigid, inflexible conformists. However, most are flexible people who have had to solve problems quickly in difficult situations. More than most, veterans have had to work in teams and place their lives in the hands of others their lives often depending on it.
For that reason, they may become impatient with people who look out only for themselves or complain that their Twitter feed isn’t responding. But they also know that forming relationships with their colleagues and working together are the best ways to get things done.
Sometimes they have difficulty finding significance after service, and reaching out to include them in community activities or service to others goes a long way toward helping them find fulfillment.
At the very least, we should not assume all veterans have psychological trauma and separate them from the rest of the workplace. This is more of an “us” responsibility, rather than a “them” issue.
After all, veterans laid it all on the line to ensure the rest of us have an opportunity to be all that we can be. On this Veterans Day, we should do the same for them.
Linda Yoder is a veteran and an associate professor of nursing at The University of Texas at Austin.
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— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) November 10, 2014