[December 5, 2020] Over the past several decades, there has been a decline of veteran identity. This is reflected in falling membership across all organizations like the VFW, increased suicide rates, and unemployment. This is a problem that has national-level and societal implications, none of which are good.
The Decline of Veteran identity.
This unfortunate decline of identity is not the result of fewer veterans. We know, for example, that the U.S. Census Bureau reported 26.4 million vets in the year 2000 but only 18.0 million in 2018.1,2 The make-up of veterans has also changed (e.g., increased numbers of women vets), but this situation is neither contributing to the decline of vet identify.
Here are some of the problems associated with the loss of veteran identity:
- Loss of Comradery
- Increased Complacency
- Declining Self-importance
- Poor Perception of Veterans’ status
- Loss of Trust in Organizations (like the VA)
- Lack of pride in being a Veteran
In two days from now, many of us will stop to remember December 7th, 1941, the day when the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack on American soil. Our World War II veterans are referred to as our “greatest generation.” Their mission was clear; to destroy the German and Japanese military machine and the political systems behind them. These vets came home victorious. Sadly, only about 500,000 WWII vets are alive today.
Veterans today think of themselves, not as a veteran first, but as just another citizen.
When asked why many veterans are not being active on veteran issues, as participants in service organizations, or attending veteran celebrations, veterans tell us that there is “no real purpose” for them to do so. One veteran said to me that “All the tough problems have been solved,” referring to the Veterans Administration health-care mission.
There is no Veteran Mission.
I will acknowledge that there is no overarching mission for our veterans, and that is our fault. Each vet has the experience and core values needed now, more than ever, in America. Their stories and “get ‘er done” attitude are what make us successful. When a vet is in trouble, veterans should rally to their defense.
What is the Solution?
How to solve this decline of veteran identity is not easy. It begins with a small core of vets who are willing to put together a vision for our veterans and see to it that being a vet has great social value. Each veteran must connect one-on-one with a small number of at-risk veterans. This will create a network that reaches all veterans. Doing so begins a new movement that gives purpose and a mission.
Solving this problem will take tremendous leadership. The real question is who will step up to do so.