Module 2--Understanding a Veteran and The Changing Face of America's Veterans

Module 2: Understanding Veterans and the Changing Face of America’s Veteran

Deuteronomy 20:1-4

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: "Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory."

Understanding a Veteran

by Ray Starmann


On Veterans Day, it is important for those who have never served to take a moment to understand the solitary world of a vet.

Millions of vets are and have been successful in all endeavors. They are doctors, lawyers business people and a thousand other professions. Not all have PTSD; not all are the troubled, brooding, street corner homeless guy, although they exist and need help desperately. 

No matter how successful a vet might be materially, more often than not, vets are often alone, mentally and spiritually each day and for the rest of their lives.

Vet's stories are all different, but some elements of the common experience exist.

Many vets experienced and saw and heard and did things unimaginable to the average person. They also lived in a daily camaraderie that cannot be repeated in the civilian world. In fact, many vets spend the rest of their lives seeking the same espirt de corps that simply is absent from their civilian lives and jobs. They long to spend just 15 minutes back with the best friends they ever had, friends that are scattered to every corner of the earth, and some to the afterlife itself.

Vets are haunted by visions of horror and death, by guilt of somehow surviving and living the good life, when some they knew are gone. They strangely wish sometimes that they were back in those dreadful circumstances, not to experiene the dirt and horror and terror and noise and violence again, but to be with the only people a vet really knows, other vets.

Civilians must understand that for a vet nothing is ever the same again. Their sense can be suddenly illuminated by the slightest sound or smell, sights of death all around, a living version of Dante's Inferno; sounds so loud that they can only be described as Saving Private Ryan in surround sound on steroids; smells vast and horrific; rotting death, burning fuel and equipment, rubber, animals and . . . people. The smoldering ruins of life all around them.

All vets have these thoughts nearly everyday. Some may experience them for fractions of a second, or for minutes at a time. They replay over and over again like an endles 24-hour war movie.

Part of the solitary world of the vet is being able to enjoy complete bliss doing absolutely nothing. This is a trait grating to civilians who must constantly search for endless stimuli. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest thrill of all is just being alive. A lot of vets have an Obi-wan Kenobi calmness. After what they went through, how bad can anything really be?

As King said to Chris in Platoon, "Make it outta here, it's all gravy, every day of the rest of your life -- gravy . . ."

So many, if not all vets walk around each day lost in their own special story. They were once great actors on a giant stage with speaking parts and props. Maybe they were heroes and now they aren't anymore. Maybe they helped save the world and now they can't. Maybe they gave orders and now they take them. Maybe they thought that they could accomplish anything and now they know they can't. Perhaps their lives now are smaller and slower and sometimes in the vet's mind just incidental, even though they are not. 

Most civilians are oblivious to the solitary life of the vet. But, it's there. It's the same eternal and universal philosophy, whether you fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. The experiences may have been different, but the emotions are the same.

A problem with the solitary world of the vet is that the vet has a hard time explaining what he or she did to those who didn't serve. Some vets want to talk, but they have no outlet. Maybe their only outlet is watching a war movie or reading a book about the conflict they were in.

How often do people say, "Grandpa never talks about Korea. That's because Grandpa knows that no one can understand except other vets. That's because Grandpa knows most people don't care."

Part of this taciturn mentality is that vets speak another language, a strange and archaic language of their past. How do you know how to talk to civilians about "fire for effect" or grid 7310" or "shake and bake" or "frag orders" or "10 days and a wakeup" or a thousand and one other terms that are mystifying to the real world?

You can't.

All of this adds to the solitary world of the vet. Some are better at handling life afterwards than others. Some don't seem affected at all but they are. They just hide it. Some never return to normal. But, what is normal to a vet anymore?

So, if you see a vet sitting by themselves at a restaurant or on a train or shopping at the grocery store alone, take a moment to speak with them. Take them out of their solitary world for a moment. You'll be happy you did.           April 21, 2019




Thousands Bid Farewell

An Air Force vet died with no known family.  Thousands of strangers came to his funeral in Texas to say goodbye.

An Air Force honor guard carries the casket of Joseph Walker, who died with no family expected to attend his funeral. An estimated 2,000 people turned out after the word went out on social media. (From the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery Facebook page)

The call went out over social media this weekend: Joseph Walker, an airman who served from 1964 to 1968, had passed away. But the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen, Texas, could find no family members to attend his burial there Monday.

So the cemetery hoped the community might make sure Walker, who was 72 when he died last Nov. 19, was not buried alone.

“If you have the opportunity, please come out and attend,” the cemetery said on its Facebook page last Thursday. “We do NOT leave Veterans behind.”

The word spread quickly. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was one of many who encouraged people to attend in tweets and other online posts that went viral.

A Vietnam War veteran with few known family members was buried at Omaha National Cemetery in Nebraska on Tuesday, flanked by hundreds of attendees who had never met him.

And when Walker’s funeral began, an estimated 2,000 complete strangers had shown up to pay their respects to a veteran who they had never met. NBC journalist Janet Shamlian shared a picture of “a line of cars stretching for miles” to attend.

The news coverage of Walker’s potentially-unaccompanied funeral also apparently alerted his daughter. The local Fox affiliate in Austin reported that Karina Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Texas General Land Office, said Walker’s daughter drove into town after seeing reports, although she only arrived at the end of the ceremony. Erickson said she was presented the folded flag that was on her father’s casket.

“We were able to reunite the family today,” Erickson told Austin’s Fox 7.

A speaker at the service said it is unclear what Walker’s rank was. He was buried with full military honors.


The Changing Face of America's Veterans


2 Timothy 2 (NKJ)

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.


Gavin Kinney, left, and his brother Rigel hold up a sign at the New York City Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

There were around 20.4 million U.S. veterans in 2016, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, representing less than 10% of the total U.S. adult population. As Americans observe Veterans Day, here are key facts about those who have served in the military and how this population is changing.

Looking forward at the changing profile of U.S. veterans

% of U.S. Veterans by . . .

1. Gulf War-era veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans, surpassing Vietnam-era veterans in 2016, according to Veterans Affairs’ 2016 population model estimates. As of last year, there were 6.8 million American veterans who served during the Vietnam era and 7.1 million who served in the Gulf War era, which spans from August 1990 through the present. (Some veterans served through both eras.) There were also around 771,000 World War II veterans and 1.6 million who served during the Korean conflict, the VA estimates. About three-quarters (77%) of veterans in 2016 served during wartime and 23% only served during peacetime.

2. The share of the U.S. population with military experience is declining. In 2016, 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. This drop coincides with decreases in active duty personnel. Over the past half-century, the number of people on active duty has dropped significantly, from 3.5 million in 1968, during the draft era, to 1.3 million (or less than 1% of all U.S. adults) in today’s all-volunteer force. The military draft ended in 1973.

VA projections suggest the number of veterans will continue to decline in the coming decades. By 2045, the department estimates there will be around 12 million veterans, a roughly 40% decrease from current numbers. By that time, Gulf War-era veterans are projected to make up a majority of veterans, and most of those who served in the Vietnam era or earlier will have died.

3. The demographic profile of veterans is expected to change in the next few decades. Currently, nine-in-ten veterans (91%) are men while 9% are women, according to the VA’s 2016 population model estimates. By 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double to 18%. The number of female veterans is also projected to increase, from around 1.9 million in 2016 to 2.2 million in 2045. Male veterans, on the other hand, are projected to drop by almost half, from 18.5 million in 2016 to 9.8 million in 2045. Projections also indicate that the veteran population will become slightly younger by 2045, with 33% of veterans younger than 50 (compared with 27% in 2016), even as the overall U.S. population continues to age. The share of veterans ages 50 to 69 is expected to shrink from 39% to 33%, while the share of those 70 and older is predicted to be around a third of the total (34%) by 2045, similar to the current share.

As with trends in the U.S. population overall, the veteran population is predicted to become more racially and ethnically diverse. Between 2016 and 2045, the share of veterans who are non-Hispanic white is expected to drop from 77% to 64%. The share of veterans who are Hispanic is expected to nearly double from 7% to 13%, while the share who are black is expected to increase from 12% to 16%.

Federal Agencies viewed favorably
% saying they have a _____ view of each . . .


Fewer veterans in Congress
% of members with previous military service

4. Fewer members of Congress have prior military experience than in the past. As the share of Americans who are veterans has declined, so has the share of Congress members who have previously served in the military. In the current Congress, 20% of senators and 19% of representatives had prior military service, down drastically from just a few decades ago. The share of senators who are veterans reached a post-Korean War peak of 81% in 1975, while the share among House members peaked in 1967 at 75%. However, there are signs more veterans could run for office in the future.

5. The Department of Veterans Affairs receives a low favorability rating. While the public expresses favorable views of many federal agencies, the VA received the lowest rating among 10 agencies and departments in a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year. Roughly half of U.S. adults (49%) had a favorable view of the VA and 34% expressed an unfavorable view. As with all the agencies and departments in the survey, there were partisan differences. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expressed lower favorability for the VA (40%) than Democrats and Democratic leaners (60%).

Americans continue to see veterans’ services as an important priority. In an April survey, a majority of people (75%) said that if they were making the federal budget, they would increase spending for veterans’ benefits and services – the highest share of all 14 program areas included in the survey, as well as the highest level of support for increased spending on veterans services since Pew Research Center first asked the question in 2001.