This is the eighth post in the “In Between” series.
I started work last week for my summer internship as required by my graduate program. Sparing too many details for the sake of some limited anonymity, I’ve been brought on as part of a small team to kick off an initiative to recruit young veterans into a tech training and internship program and to also develop a better understanding of the young, post-9/11 veteran population in the Bay Area and other metropolitan locations.
The organization already targets underprivileged young adults, so the point came up naturally in a discussion as to why veterans as a group should receive additional attention within the scope of the existing program.
First of all, this is a 100% appropriate point. Misunderstanding and “kid gloves” are far too pervasive when dealing with reintegrating veterans into the civilian workforce. We end up asking questions about all the ways veterans differ from civilians. What makes them different? What kind of student or employee can we expect veterans to be? What concerns or problems should we be prepared for that are unique to veterans?
My answer to the point is simple: veterans are just like anyone else. Sure there are some nuanced differences. I don’t have the data to back this up, but I can imagine that veterans in the “young adult” category (think under 26 years old) are more likely to have young families and are probably more likely to be divorced. They may also have increased chances for mental/behavioral health concerns.
Based on my program’s target student population, however, many veteran issues would not be unique to the organization, which has the capacity to address many problems. Which, again, begs the question: why veterans?
What makes veterans different in this case is that they are trying to plug back into society but might need help doing so. When veterans entered service, they unplugged from mainstream society and plugged into the military world. After a few years, they might have chosen to finish their enlistment and exit the service. They unplugged from the military and now must plug back into civilian life, whether that’s school or the workforce.
But maybe the socket isn’t in the same spot it used to be, or maybe the veteran’s plug changed shape.
Maybe this metaphor is useful, and maybe it isn’t. What makes sense to me is that it strips away the pseudo-patriotic and woe-is-me perspectives for something more helpful in the long run. In a recent interview with Task & Purpose’s Adam Linehan, Sebastian Junger (author of the new book Tribe and director of the film “Restrepo”) said this about returning veterans:
But right now they need to be transitioned back into “normal life.” And if they’re overly valorized, we’re basically saying, “You’re not a normal person.”
Bottom line: in most ways that matter, veterans — especially young, post-9/11 ones — aren’t that different. Perhaps they’re just unplugged, that’s all.
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