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Another brick in the wall

Lives of Servicemembers

An acquaintance once said in a group conversation, “I don’t understand why we have to respect the military,” glancing quickly over at me and looking away.

I was baffled. Did this person remember my husband is in the Air Force? Was the comment meant to upset me?

The issue of if and how Americans respect the military is complicated. Yes, there’s a lot of “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers. Yes, a lot of politicians vaguely discuss needing to do more for our veterans. However, there’s a difference between providing lip service to the military and addressing actual issues that affect servicemembers.

Firstly, approximately 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD. More complete statistics are unavailable, since the Department of Defense and their researchers have had trouble keeping track of retired servicemembers.

Also, though popular films like American Sniper tend to only show servicemembers in the context of war zones, about 80 percent of the military serves in noncombat positions. Many people are unaware of other factors that create stress for servicemembers, like constant relocating and social isolation. This is why, according to a report from the National Center for Veterans Studies, stress levels are high even among veterans who have never seen combat and why the majority of service members who commit suicide had no history of deployment.

I’ve seen this isolation firsthand, as many servicemembers and their families, unsure of how to integrate into their new communities, rarely leave base and only interact with other people affiliated with the military. Negative stereotypes some people hold about servicemembers increase the experience of social isolation.

High levels of stress and other mental health issues affect servicemembers’ families as well, as they are also affected by frequent relocating and can spend months separated from their spouse or parents in the military. According to a DoD study, unemployment rate for military spouses is nearly 25 percent. This statistic has been on my mind as my graduation date approaches.

Americans who want to help servicemembers should look beyond superficial expressions of gratitude and educate themselves on issues military families face. Communities with military personnel should also find ways to incorporate servicemembers and their families.

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