There seems to be a stigma that follows veterans, specifically combat veterans. To their credit, most Americans are supportive of veterans. But despite their support (or maybe it’s at the root of it) American civilians tend to have a view of combat veterans as somehow broken and potentially unstable members of society. As a combat veteran myself, I have been the topic of “the joke” at times. You know the one. It’s the joke that says, “Don’t mess with him, you could set off his PTSD!” Now, I don’t discuss with most people whether or not I have PTSD. Frankly it is nobody’s business. So where does this joke and this general stigma originate? Well I say it starts with us, the veterans.
Within a group of people, any group of people, a culture inevitably forms. And within the culture, subcultures also form. Veterans are no different. The veteran community has it’s own culture. It is centered around service and the knowledge that we’ve experienced something that civilians will never understand. We use acronyms, jargon, and humor with which only we can identify. If you dig even more deeply, you would find that we are all cut from a very similar cloth. We are our own breed. Within our culture, however, there is a subculture that embraces the “dysfunctional veteran” persona. We all know them. Hell, you may even be one of them! They are not difficult to spot. They are typically loners, they drink a lot, they act like an asshole, then tell everyone that they earned the right to their poor behavior by virtue of their service. Everything about them screams combat veteran because they make sure that it does. They deliver constant reminders of their service paired with their antisocial behavior, and embrace the negative attention that ensues. It’s similar to a child who misbehaves in order to get attention. It doesn’t matter that it is negative attention, as long as somebody notices.
So why does this small subculture of the veteran community overtake the combat veteran image and create such a stigma? Because they are the loudest. Let’s go back to the poorly behaved child analogy. If you were in a restaurant and the table to your left had a well mannered child sitting nicely enjoying his or her meal, and the table to the right had a screaming, crying brat of a child pounding on the table and getting hollered at by his or her parents, which one would get your attention? The same logic applies to the veteran community. So what is the fix? I think the fix lies in successful veterans making more noise to counter those dysfunctional types. I think we need to let everyone know who the proud, successful, strong veterans are. We need to let everyone know that veterans are an asset to the community, not a liability. So let’s start making some noise. Let’s introduce people to the “functional veteran”.