Veterans are a widely recognized and respected group in society. Skills such as a strong work ethic, a dedication to core values or objectives, leadership and the ability to handle stressful situations are all highly sought after — and are widely seen in veterans. However, despite these desired traits, veterans still face a myriad of social and economic challenges, such as finding employment and treating service-related injuries or illnesses.
There is also another phenomenon that can hamper a veteran’s transition into civilian life: the perceived social differences between veterans and civilians and their supposed incompatibility. Many veterans feel like they cannot relate to civilians during their transition back into civilian life because many of the challenges that they have faced are not shared by their civilian counterparts. This is an issue which has been covered or debated by many veteran-oriented media outlets, such as Task and Purpose or Stars and Stripes. Maximillian Urate — a New York Times best-selling author and producer of the comic “Terminal Lance” — nailed it perfectly in a comic strip he made. “Back Home” shows the sequence of events of main character Abe, who goes from enlistment to boot camp and finally getting out of active duty — while his civilian counterpart remains almost the same, ignorant of the experiences and challenges Abe endured. Attitudes like this are often common amongst other veterans struggling to reintegrate back into the civilian world, and in many cases it creates a feeling of alienation or a lack of understanding.
What makes the problem more complicated is the advent of social media. Many veteran-centric social media pages’ focus on aspects of service or post-service life that create a sense of nostalgia. At the same time, these pages tend to remain silent about moving on into civilian life. These kinds of interactions can stall reintegration into civilian life by creating an atmosphere that makes the civilian world and the veteran world feel very separate or incompatible.
The solution is simple: learning to socialize and understand each other from both a veteran perspective and a civilian one. There are many times when I personally made good relationships with veterans, and their skill sets and experiences have amazed me as well as been a great help. Civilians should learn to ignore stereotypes we place on veterans and start to see them as more than just the label of “veteran.” We should see veterans as those who have made great contributions to their country, which also provided them with a unique set of skills and experiences that we can learn from. Learning to bridge the silent social divide can foster better relationships, de-mystify what it means to be a veteran and help each other make the social connections that ultimately improve the civilian world.