Do Civilians Really Care About Veterans Day?

Military and Veterans, SMVF

There are all kinds of veterans in our country and they feel all kinds of ways about Veterans Day, the holiday meant to honor them.

If you’re one of those veterans who feel like civilians don’t really care about Veterans Day – or veterans – it can be very frustrating.

Do Civilians Really Care About Veterans Day?

Most civilians do care about Veterans Day. In fact, a 2022 survey found that 75% of Americans support Veterans Day being a national holiday. The same survey found that two-thirds (65%) of Americans said they planned to observe Veterans Day in some way – The most popular way was flying the American flag.

However, the problem some veterans have is not that some people don’t observe Veterans Day; it’s that most civilians don’t really know what the holiday is all about. Many Americans celebrate the day the same way they celebrate Memorial Day or the 4th of July – by having cookouts, putting up patriotic decorations, attending parades, etc. – but without really understanding or acknowledging the history of Veterans Day. Others treat Veterans Day like a solemn day of remembrance. 

Retired Chief Warrant Officer James S. Hanson, aviation safety officer, says it’s neither:

“I wish people understood what [Veterans Day] means. It’s not a memorial, go to the graveyard day … It’s not a beer drinking party day. It’s a day to commemorate why the veterans did what they did and do what they do.”

At its core, what Veterans Day is most is a day of reflection, for veterans and civilians alike.

When You Feel Like Civilians Don’t Care About Veterans Day

It can be discouraging when you feel like civilians don’t care about veterans, but it’s important to remember that:

Civilians Don’t Really Understand What Being in the Military Is Like

While there is widespread support for veterans among Americans, most don’t have any idea what being a service member or veteran is actually like. They’re likely to get their insight from what they see on the news or in movies. Most of these depictions are focused on combat, but only about 30% of veterans have combat experience. So while Americans overwhelmingly love veterans, they don’t really understand their experiences.

Related: Alcohol Abuse and Veterans: Larry Veale’s Story

Michael Casavantes, Ph.D., a Vietnam veteran and professor of media studies at Arizona State University says:

“It’s really difficult for someone who has not experienced the military to understand what it’s like … The way the media … depict soldiers, it’s either the kind of psychopath that Sgt. Barnes was in ‘Platoon,’ or the stalwart stoic hero like John Wayne in ‘Sands of Iwo Jima.’”

There’s a Social Divide Between Veterans and Service Members and Civilians

One study found that nearly 75% of civilians don’t believe they have a lot in common with veterans. They might not actively avoid socializing with veterans, but misunderstanding and feelings of “otherness” might keep them from seeking out friendships with them.

What’s more worrisome is that the study found that civilians often “underestimated the education levels of their veteran counterparts – or believed they were more likely to suffer from mental health problems.”

Beliefs like these contribute to some of the problems that veterans face after leaving the military, like having trouble finding a job. A 2022 report found that over half (54%) of civilians have never talked to or have rarely ever talked to a veteran. 28% said they didn’t recall ever having spoken to a veteran about their service.

Many veterans also prefer spending time with other veterans over spending time with civilians. Army veteran Anthony Sadler says that while he has civilian friends, when he wants to socialize, he heads to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 76, because it’s a place where he can be “emotionally vulnerable”:

“If you went to another bar, or downtown or a club, you couldn’t share your feelings about military … If you cry, then people – especially men – will take it as a weakness and they wouldn’t understand what brought that emotion. But people here, we totally get it.”

(Need transition assistance? We have a veteran-run program that can help.)

To Most Americans, November 11th Is Just Another Day

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Veterans Day is a paid holiday for only 19% of American workers and only 11% of private-sector workers get the day off. That means that most Americans don’t actually get Veterans Day off work.

These citizens – everyone from service industry workers to office workers (and of course those poor retail workers on shift during those big blowout Veterans Day Sales) – have likely never had much of an opportunity to spend the day celebrating or honoring veterans.

How to Close the Divide Between Civilians and Veterans

A lot of the apathy you might sense from civilians in regards to veterans is actually rooted in misunderstanding or a complete lack of awareness. It used to be that, during periods of war, just about everyone served or knew someone who served, but now the average American is less personally connected to military service than ever before. 

Sebastian Junger, award-winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author of six books and producer-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” says:

“Politically, socially, and economically, it behooves any administration to try to insulate the American population at home from the effects of war … But the downside is that it can look like the nation is going about its merry way, while proportionally a very small number of people are fighting and paying enormous costs overseas. You don’t want it to be so separated that our men and women in uniform have the feeling that the nation doesn’t even know what they are doing and doesn’t care.”

So how do we close this divide among our citizens? Junger thinks that the United States should consider implementing mandatory national service, with a military option, to break down chasms and make everyone feel like a part of the whole. It’s possible that that could be in our country’s future, but for now, closing the divide has to start with a little bit of effort from us all.

You can personally help by making an effort to participate in your community. You can also look for opportunities to be open about your experiences serving in the military. Junger founded Vets Town Hall for just this reason. Every Veterans Day at Vets Town Hall events across the country, any veteran who served in any capacity is invited to speak for 10 minutes about their service. About the event, the Vets Town Hall web page says:

“Some speakers may be proud, others may be angry and a few may be crying too hard to speak. But those feelings should be processed by the entire nation, rather than just by veterans themselves. Vets Town Hall events are a way to start making that happen.”

Related: Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Grief Support Groups in the Coastal Virginia Area

Having Trouble Transitioning From Military to Civilian Life?

Feeling like civilians don’t care about you or appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made isn’t the only reason you might be struggling post-military service. Transitioning from military service back to civilian life is rarely easy and for many veterans, it comes with challenges.

Junger describes the experience as leaving a “tribe” – a small group committed to a clear purpose – and going back to an individualistic society, where veterans can often feel like they’re not needed or that they lack purpose. In fact, a 2022 report found that about half of veterans sometimes feel “like a stranger in their own country.”

Service Members, Veterans and Family Support at Region Five

Are you struggling with transitioning back to civilian life? If you’re in the Greater Tidewater Hampton Roads Area of Virginia, Region Five can help. We’re the regional provider of behavioral health services and other resources for service members, veterans and their families.

If you could use some help finding a job or otherwise transitioning back to civilian life, contact one of our Service Members, Veterans and Family Support (SMVF) directors to learn more about the services we offer:

  • Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF) Navigator, William (Whit) McNeill

          Email: [email protected]

  • Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF) Operations Manager, Charles Stamper

         Email: [email protected]

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