IMPACT
11/07/2014 10:22 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Americans View Post-9/11 Vets As Unstable Addicts Who Are Also Big, Strong Heroes: Study

Mike Cherim via Getty Images

Americans are pretty confused about their feelings on veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many view these vets as at once mentally unstable homeless people and way bigger assets to society than non-military members, a new study concluded.

Got Your 6 -- a campaign that works to empower veterans -- recently released the survey responses of more than 1,000 Americans who were asked how they see people who have served since 9/11. Nearly half said they based their responses on what they've seen in movies and on TV, and the disjointed results reveal the dichotomy of how vets are portrayed.

They’re either the down-and-out failure or the gallant savior.

"America’s current view of veterans is fundamentally defined by a duality that allows people to see them as concurrently damaged and heroic," the study noted. "A combination that tends to produce the result of charity rather than opportunity for continued leadership."

Perhaps the most dangerous misconception is the idea that veterans and mental illness are synonymous.

More than 80 percent of respondents said that post-9/11 veterans are more likely to suffer from mental health issues than a comparable civilian.

But the actual figures reveal that veterans make up a small percentage of people in America living with mental health issues.

Based on figures from the National Institute of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the study concluded that more than 90 percent of Americans with PTSD are civilians.

This inaccuracy, though, has already had far-reaching effects.

Managers admit that they’re often reluctant to hire veterans in fear that these candidates may "go postal," USA Today reported last year.

DC-based think tank Researchers from the Center for New American Security interviewed executives from 69 major corporations last year. More than half said that they have negative associations with veterans because they are often portrayed as emotionally unstable in films and in the news, the paper reported.

The perceived rate of homelessness among veterans was also far off from the true statistics.

When presented with a picture of someone who appeared to live on the streets, 87 percent identified the person as homeless. They said he was more likely to be a veteran that someone with a criminal past or mental health problems.

While vet homelessness remains a pressing concern, veterans by no means represent the majority of people living on the streets.

Vet homelessness is on the decline, and veterans account for about 12 percent of the total U.S. homeless population, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This misconception comes with its own set of risks.

Instead of pushing for better job and education opportunities for veterans, more than half said that the best way to help post-9/11 vets is by providing them with free services.

On the flip side, though, respondents also overwhelmingly said that post-9/11 veterans have strengths that far surpass their civilian counterparts, a view that they said is also bolstered by the entertainment industry.

These very same interviewees said that post-9/11 veterans are nearly five times more likely than their civilian counterparts to be strong leaders or valuable assets to the community.

A main takeaway, according to the study, is that for better or for worse, the entertainment industry plays an enormous role in shaping Americans’ views of veterans.

To help ensure that they transition back to civilian life with ease, the industry needs to make a concerted effort to present veterans for who they are. People who have served their countries and made sacrifices, but now want to live normal lives like anyone else.

It needs to move "beyond the traditional definitions that tend to force veterans into one of two extremes -- 'heroes' or 'charity cases,'" the study urged, and adopt a more "compelling, and more authentic way of writing post-9/11 veterans into their content."

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