The Slander of the Broken Veteran

by Rebecca Burgess, Newsweek

Successful Dallas financial advisor B.G. Burkett remembers how flummoxed he was by the media’s frequent portrayals of Vietnam-era veterans as “losers, bums, drug addicts, drunks, derelicts—societal offal…with the potential to go berserk at any moment.” His large circle of veteran acquaintances looked and acted nothing like these descriptions, holding down long-term jobs, with houses and children and voting records.

Burkett’s subsequent quest to understand the Vietnam veteran dichotomy, in order to restore the good name of well-deserving Vietnam veterans while directing help toward those truly in need, resulted in Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History. But while the book received the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Award and helped to fuel the Stolen Valor Acts of 2005 and 2013, public perception still hovers around the belief that contemporary war veterans are a population that requires services to function in civil society, rather than a population that has valuable services to offer back.

Handfuls of veteran-initiated groups and associations have formed in recent years to reverse this public image of “the broken veteran.” With the endeavor in mind of establishing the valuable social capital veterans represent, and helping to channel that to increase the civic health of communities, the National Conference on Citizenship in partnership with Got Your 6 and others initiated the first-ever sociological examination of civic health as it relates to veterans. This Thursday, they published the good news: empirical data unmistakably shore up such organizations’ long-held belief that veterans of military service strengthen communities by volunteering, voting, engaging in local governments, helping neighbors and participating in community organizations. And, the study shows, they do so at higher rates than their non-veteran counterparts.

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