While Americans generally value and respect veterans, they also misunderstand them in some respects, a recently released survey found.
The nearly 2.4 million post-9/11 veterans are viewed as national assets who are lauded by the citizens they serve, but the public also believes – mistakenly – that most veterans suffer from psychological problems.
“One of the things we found is that veterans are actually in much better shape psychologically and emotionally, and much better educated,” than people perceive them to be, said Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and founder and CEO of a veterans nonprofit organization, The Mission Continues.
Greitens married Ferris High School graduate Sheena Chestnut last summer and has family in Spokane. Last summer he visited the area promoting his book, “The Heart and the Fist.”
The survey of 801 adults was commissioned through a partnership between The Mission Continues and television and film production company Bad Robot. It was conducted by research team Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies. Modeled in part after a 1979 survey, it found a marked increase in positive public perception of post-9/11 veterans compared with Vietnam veterans.
Compared to their nonveteran peers, the public believes veterans have more discipline, a stronger character and greater community involvement. However, many of those surveyed also describe veterans as angry or depressed and think the majority suffer from mental illness.
“Many people tend to think also that a majority of vets coming home have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Greitens said. “In fact, it’s a small minority of veterans.”
According to the survey, 53 percent of respondents think most veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. While many might be overcoming post-traumatic stress, the number of veterans who have the disorder is roughly 2 in 10, Greitens said.
The public also incorrectly assumes that veterans have lower levels of education, Greitens said. They’re actually more likely to have obtained some college education and advanced degrees than their nonveteran peers.
The results of the survey came on the heels of an announcement by President Barack Obama that troops leaving the military will go through a five- to seven-day reverse boot camp called Transition Goals Planning Success that will cover budgeting, resume preparation and translating military skills into a civilian environment.
The survey found some misconceptions negatively impact veterans’ ability to reintegrate into civilian life and find employment.
“Right now, there is a higher unemployment rate among veterans than there is among the rest of the population,” Greitens said. “People respect veterans for what they’ve done, they respect the service they have provided, but they may not think that a veteran can be an asset to them in their company.”
However, he said, veterans are usually mission-focused, team players, inspiring in difficult situations, persistent, and knowledgeable about logistics and leadership.
“All of those things are skill sets and traits that are built in the U.S. military,” he said. “If people get to understand veterans better, we believe that everyone will begin to see them as assets.”
The study also found that 54 percent believe the country is not doing a good job assisting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, especially when it comes to jobs.
But, Greitens said, “Our veterans tend to do very well in communities like Spokane where there’s a proud military tradition. Spokane is actually a wonderful example of a community that really tries its best to make sure every veteran coming home has a successful transition.”