As proud as I am of serving in the Iraq War, I am finding it increasingly difficult to tell civilians stories of war. America is illiterate when it comes to war. Stigmas are still placed on combat veterans and the overuse of the phrase "empowering veterans" has painted the veteran landscape as a community in need of help after service. Veterans are more valuable than this and instead of being pushed to learn how to be civilians and to re-assimilate, they should be pushed to redefine what it means to be a veteran in the civilian world.
Veterans can redefine themselves, their legacy, and how they are viewed in the civilian world through community and public service, and by sharing their experiences from overseas conflicts. In doing so, veterans can ease the transition phase for themselves and others -- the more civilians gain exposure to military lives and experiences, the more empathetic and accepting they will be towards today's military veterans. Over the next five years, one million service members will leave active duty. With that many veterans joining the civilian workforce, more people will interact with veterans and will hear first-hand stories of the longest wars ever fought in American History. Through this, veterans have an opportunity to build an image and model for future veterans to follow, removing existing stigmas while simultaneously changing the national conversation surrounding the military community. Employment is one of the many ways veterans can do this.
Being up front with employers about previous military service can be risky, as according to a survey conducted by Military Benefit Association, more than 70 percent of hiring managers admit having a hard time making business sense of military experience. That being said, veterans need to recognize that their skills gained in the service are in fact translatable and valuable to the modern working world and emphasize those skills to employers; leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, dependability, consistency, loyalty -- the list goes on. Veterans must be willing to embrace their service and to educate those outside of the military community about their skills and experiences. Doing so will begin to strengthen veterans own opinions of what they can bring to the table, while employers will begin to understand how to incorporate veterans into their organizations in a meaningful and impactful way.
By embracing their experiences in the service, veterans can help civilians to further appreciate this generation of veterans by sharing their incredible stories of selfless service, both oversees and at home. Creating open channels of communication will begin to change the perception of who veterans are and what they are capable of, bridging the divide between these two communities. In doing so, many of the hardships and stigmas currently faced when leaving the service can be reduced and hopefully eliminated.
Veterans currently in the civilian world are responsible for creating a better pathway for future veterans, so that as the war in Afghanistan winds down, newly returning veterans find it easier to see that their service has meaning and is valuable to their local communities. Whether through storytelling, professional careers, or other forms of service on the home-front, service-members can begin to redefine what it means to be called a veteran.
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