The Decline of Veteran Identity

By | December 5, 2020

[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:

  1. Loss of Comradery
  2. Increased Complacency
  3. Declining Self-importance
  4. Poor Perception of Veterans’ status
  5. Loss of Trust in Organizations (like the VA)
  6. 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.


  1. Census Bureau Releases New Report on Veterans
  2. The Passing of Our Veterans | (
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

32 thoughts on “The Decline of Veteran Identity

  1. Harry B. Donner

    Very interesting and something for most of us to really think about. Next time you meet a veteran, ask what their thoughts are of being a vet. Now, the answer should be within the context of what Gen. Satterfield has written here.

  2. Greg Heyman

    Great article, Gen. Satterfield. This concept is something I’ve never read about before. Now that you mention it, I’ve seen this “malaise” (to use an old term) in many of our vets. Too bad. Many think they are nothing special but that is, of course, far from reality. Thanks again!!

    1. Fred Weber

      Today is Pearl Harbor Day, so let’s not forget those who were there that day, nor forget any of our veterans ever.

  3. Darryl Sitterly

    Being a veteran seems to be relegated to only getting a discount at certain stores. It has no value beyond that. Now, there is the expectation that vets are just looking for a handout. Sort of like the Vietnam Vet stereotype of being a drug addict, crazy person.

    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Now that is an interesting observation with some value. Yes, the vet is stereotyped into nothing. They serve no value, so hey we just give them a discount and say “thank you for your service.” Nothing behind this. Many are just pandering to vets.

  4. Wilson Cox

    The thought that eventually the younger veterans will join because they are missing the camaraderie is a false notion.

  5. Ed Berkmeister

    Why wouldn’t veterans want to be around other veterans?
    That is a question that must be answered and answered now, if any vet org wants to move forward with a new face to attract younger members.

    1. Xerxes I

      These organizations offer the opportunity to share the bond and camaraderie that melds us together as proud United States Veterans.

  6. Janna Faulkner

    Gen. Satterfield, thanks for the insightful look into our vets. I would venture to say that there is a similar problem in all service-type organizations. Even the Boy Scouts have been in decline for the past decade. Poor leadership at the top is part of the problem but there are other societal factors making an impact as well.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Solidarity in America has been going down for decades. The 1960s saw the beginning. What is the reason? If there was an obvious answer, we would know it by now.

    2. The Kid 1945

      Yeah, and I think that our vets, if any one group can do it, are the ones that can overcome the problem. The first step is recognizing the problem, then (the hard part) finding a solution. Executing the solution might also be a real problem as well.

    3. Shawn C. Stolarz

      … and sometimes the solution is worse than the problem. The Boy Scouts, for instance, are still in decline even after accepting girls. And, their bankruptcy has skyrocketed their annual dues.

  7. Willie Shrumburger

    Another make-me-think article for my file. It seems that these orgs have done some work to make improvements like allowing auxiliary membership. I wonder what else is being done to help out. The old stereotype of a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking 10 cent beer, smoking cigarettes, and telling war stories is over.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Boy it is difficult to kill of this stereotype and maybe why so many avoid these veteran service organizations.

  8. Linux Man

    You just gave me something to talk about with my uncle who has been a VFW member and AMVETs member for decades. He is always talking about how he likes it there but that there are no new members coming in.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      So what should the legacy organizations do to reach out and attract younger veterans? First of all, they can communicate via email, vs. snail mail. They can make sure that they are as welcoming to female veterans as they are to male veterans. Perhaps an updated look with a few flat screen televisions and a fresh coat of paint is in order. They can host events that will attract the younger crowd; out with the Bingo night and in with college fairs, career days, and veteran service officer Q&As.

      1. Dennis Mathes

        Crazy stuff. Think differently. Act appropriately, Go after what the potential membership may desire and NEED.

        1. Rowen Tabernackle

          The current VSO image and what the younger veteran generation think about local VSOs is real; they see a building with a couple windows, a dimly lit smoke-filled room with a pool table or darts with “Bingo Night” being boldly advertised as the biggest event happening at that particular location. How do we get the younger veterans to be part of that? The answer is we don’t. WE MUST CHANGE.

          1. Pink Cloud

            You hit that one on the head, Rowen. Roger and out.

  9. Tom Bushmaster

    Excellent blog post. A new view of the military veteran and you have tried to tackle the big problem in military veteran organizations that are in a state of decline (as measure both by attendance and by activity levels). We also see this in other large member-driven orgs like the Girl and Boy Scouts. Something else is driving it and it’s not just the membership per se. It’s something else in society but I don’t know what it might be.

    1. Wendy Holmes

      Good points here Tom. Gen. Satterfield’s article I think points to the elephant in the room. He is making us “see” that there is a problem with veterans – as a group – that maybe they don’t even recognize. What’s up?

  10. Forrest Gump

    Wow, very interesting article this morning, Gen. Satterfield. Thank you for the insight. I would never have imagined.


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