Reporter David Eisler wrote a poignant piece for the New York Times blog, At War, discussing the two prominent and competing narratives about veterans. "One story is about healthy, hardworking, disciplined, well-trained and experienced veterans who would be an asset to any business or organization," Eisler writes. "The other tells of broken, disabled, traumatized veterans who have physical and behavioral health issues and require constant care and supervision." These two stereotypes have gained some serious traction in recent months. But Eisler makes an important point: "one story need not exclude the other."
For veterans actively looking for work, the constant stigma associated with the second narrative often makes it more difficult to land a job after returning home. This is supported by data indicating an increase in veteran unemployment in recent years. And for those who do have disabilities connected to their service, the negative stereotypes and misconceptions associated with the second narrative make veterans reluctant to seek help.
Eisler points out that the American public has a deep amount of respect for the military, but increasingly, folks worry that a military career can only shape people in negative ways. Many veterans have emerged from their wartime experiences stronger--more disciplined and hardworking--which makes them valuable additions to American corporations. Many of those same veterans, Eisler explains, were also unquestionably affected by war and may therefore need a certain degree of care outside of their work. The answer then, lies somewhere in the middle. Eisler rightly calls for these two stories to acknowledge the other half, because many veterans are in fact both highly capable employees and dealing with war-related traumas.
I have worked with many veterans over the years who voice their frustration with these two narratives. On the one hand, the first story tends to ignore the hardships associated with active duty, while the second paints vets as broken victims. These stereotypes aren't looking deeply into veterans' experiences.
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