The Three Worst Myths About Veterans That Need National Debunking

Don't be fooled by the uniforms—every vet is different. Here's how to be respectful to all our service men and women.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 25, 2014· 4 MIN READ
Todd Hunter is a Social Impact Research Fellow at Participant Media in Washington, DC. Hunter served as a combat correspondent in the Marines, who has deployed to numerous countries, including Afghanistan, and has been named the U.S. Department of Defense and Marine Corps Broadcast Journalist of the Year on multiple occasions

Our country is not at war—our military is.

That’s a popular adage heard throughout the U.S. military—one that’s driven by the rampant belief that so few are sacrificing for so many.

You wouldn’t have heard that during World War II. Millions of young men went off to war, while millions more Americans built rifles, tanks, and aircrafts back at home. Schoolchildren donated their hard-earned pennies to be made into shell casings, while “victory gardens” were planted to supplement the food supply. Bonds were bought. Food was rationed. Everyone chipped in.

Not today.

This view isn’t intended to castigate those who have not chosen to serve post-9/11, but with less than one-half of 1 percent of our population serving in uniform, it does illustrate the growing military-civilian divide in the U.S.

So what?

The young men who returned from Europe and the Pacific are often referred to as America’s Greatest Generation. This distinction was earned not only because of what those young men did in combat but also because of what they accomplished when they returned home. They strengthened our economy. They built our interstate highway system. They put a man on the moon.

The cornerstone for these accomplishments was teamwork, which was enhanced by the understanding of one another’s recent experiences and sacrifices. There was no mystery to the character of the men who had served. Today, with such a large population of Americans with no ties to the military, there is.

That’s why it’s so important for the general populace to understand the current generation of military veterans. But with such a widening military-civilian divide, it’s becoming an increasingly difficult task to accomplish.

In the year since I separated from the Marine Corps, I’ve encountered various opinions of and attitudes toward modern veterans. Some are positive, but most could not be more misguided. That’s why I’ve put together this list of myths—all of which I have personally confronted—surrounding post-9/11 veterans and their respective realities.

Veterans Are Not Uneducated

This sentiment, along with its twin, “The only reason they’re in the military is because they couldn’t get into college,” is probably one of the most offensive, holier-than-thou viewpoints a vet can hear. Not only is it incredibly demeaning, but it’s also based on gross assumptions.

Maybe a vet wasn’t ready for college straight out of high school and instead had the foresight that he or she had some growing up to do. Maybe a vet didn’t want to start pursuing a degree and accumulating student debt because they didn’t yet know what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. Maybe a vet went straight into the military to earn money for college because they couldn’t afford it yet. Those are just a few things someone should probably ask before making a false assumption about the intellect or motivation of a veteran.

Even so, college isn’t for everyone. I guarantee you, though, that you can learn a hell of a lot more about humanity by serving in a combat zone than you can by studying for a final in a university library. Education goes far beyond academia.

That said, nearly 83 percent of military officers possessed a bachelor's degree or higher in 2010, compared with almost 30 percent of the general population. The same year, more than 93 percent of enlisted service members had a high school diploma or some college under their belt, compared with 60 percent of American civilians.

Looks like veterans are living up to the adage that "the best weapon is a well-trained mind" after all.

All Veterans Don't Have PTSD

No, we don’t. Even if we did, so what? The problem with PTSD is how the media portrays it to the American people.

First, classifying the condition as a disorder is a harmful misnomer because it makes people think something is wrong with the person who has it. If someone exhibits PTSD symptoms, such as nightmares or hyper-vigilance, because they saw another human being get torn to pieces, nothing is wrong with that person. Something would be wrong if they weren’t affected by such a traumatic experience. Additionally, the ‘D’ in PTSD is incredibly stigmatizing for young service members returning from war and perhaps keeps a majority of veterans from seeking help. I mean, what young 20-something alpha male wants to hear that he has a disorder? Luckily, the military community has informally begun using the term “PTS” to encourage afflicted service members to come forward for help.

Second, PTSD does not equate with violent behavior.

For example, following the April 2014 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, which left four dead—including the gunman—and 16 injured, outlets such as CNN, The Huffington Post, and McClatchy were quick to publish articles linking the shooter, Spc. Ivan Lopez, with PTSD, even though, according to The New York Times, there is no definitive proof Lopez suffered from it. It should be noted that Lopez was being treated for depression, but depression and PTSD are not interchangeable.

The Huffington Post later published a map showing where veterans with PTSD committed violent crimes, while McClatchy went as far as publishing a map showing where veterans with PTSD lived—reminiscent of the sex offender home maps published online by law enforcement.

Perhaps the best explanation of PTSD in relation to violent behavior comes from former Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, a Medal of Honor recipient who, during a Fox News Channel interview in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting, said, “Going out and shooting your own friends, your own people, that’s not PTSD. PTSD does not put you in the mind-set to go out and kill innocent people. The media is labeling this shooting PTSD, but if what that man did is PTSD, then I don’t have it.”

Veterans Are Not Bloodthirsty and Aggressive

Ask my wife. I’m sure she’d say I’m a raging savage.

That last sentence was sarcasm.

The desire to serve in the military is borne of far more than bloodlust. As previously mentioned, some enlist purely for the education benefits, while others use it as a tool to see the world or simply because they want to serve a cause bigger than themselves. The bottom line is that the thirst for violence is seldom a driving force for enlistment.

The military is more than just the infantry and special operators, who themselves are not bloodthirsty simply because of their military designation but are often portrayed and perceived as such. (Just remember, those are the guys going into combat. You can’t go into those situations extending olive branches if you want you and your buddies to survive.) For every infantryman, there are more than six additional personnel fulfilling support roles. That means aircraft maintainers, radar operators, and other support personnel, from legal clerks to meteorologists and cooks. I mean, the closest thing I’ve seen to a violent chef is Gordon Ramsay throwing a towel at a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen.

Just because someone is a veteran doesn’t mean they’ve been to war. There’s a huge difference between someone being deployed and someone engaging in combat. A large number of service members will never leave the base they are stationed at while deployed in a combat zone.

Most important to remember is that the people who serve in uniform are just that—people. We come in all shapes and sizes, from all the corners of the country. Some grew up in happy middle-class America, while others grew up in broken, abusive homes. Either way, we all bring our own set of experiences to the table when we raise our right hands.