By Leo Shane | 3:37 PM, Oct. 21, 2014
All veterans aren’t homeless washouts. But Got Your Six officials worry that many Americans see them that way.
In a new survey by the campaign, almost half of respondents shown a picture of a homeless man identified him as likely a veteran. Researchers say that stereotype is not only misleading, but also indicates a deep and disturbing stereotype of how service members adjust to post-military life.
In reality, about 10 percent of America’s homeless population are veterans. Survey respondents were more likely to associate homelessness with being a veteran than with mental health problems or criminal activity, both factors that are more prevalent among the destitute than military experience.
Only about one in 10 survey respondents described a picture of a successful businessman as likely a veteran.
“The perception of veterans is just not aligned with reality,” said Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your Six. “A lot of the time, people just have a completely wrong image in their minds.”
The campaign was founded two years ago to highlight misperceptions about troops and veterans, with a specific focus on the entertainment industry’s portrayal of military service. Marvin said the new survey shifts the argument from anecdotes to troubling data, and shows the need for more realistic discussion of veterans in civilian society.
The good news, he said, is that those opinions seem based more on unfamiliarity with veterans than on deep-seated beliefs about them.
“We’re not talking about religion or politics here,” Marvin said. “We know we can change people’s minds on this.”
Marvin and campaign officials have been sharing portions of the results with Hollywood writers and producers, encouraging them to bring more nuanced portrayals of veterans into their scripts.
“Too often we see veterans [in movies and TV] as heroes ... or as charity cases,” he said. “But our study found that showing veterans as neutral characters actually carries the most weight with the audience.”
He wants to see more characters in film who have military experience as part of their back story, not necessarily the sole focus of their existence. Showing veterans as neighbors, local business people or casual friends helps remove the idea of them as a separate class apart from society.
Researchers noted that despite misperceptions, most Americans hold a positive view of service members and veterans.
“But the 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War have proven that these views are not static,” the report states. “This is not to say that we should expect a regression in the positive opinions of veterans — it simply reflects that the public is open to having their impressions altered.”
Campaign officials hope that changing those impressions will make the transition from military to civilian life easier in years to come.