Military Veteran’s Experience
I am a United States military veteran; I am proud of my service, and the uniform I wore. I served in the Air Force from 2005-2009 and completed two deployments overseas. When I decided to enlist in the military I was lost in life; I was struggling to find myself. I was looking for a way to motivate myself, and discover what I wanted to achieve in life. This was my reason for enlisting, however, every veteran has their own personal reasons why they enlisted; love of country, money for school, family tradition, traveling the world, or learning a trade are just a few examples. However, it is equally important to realize that every veteran’s military journey is unique. Some veterans serve during a time of war, some see combat, get injured, repair jets, drive tanks, work in administration, and some serve in intelligence. Veterans are nurses, doctors, lawyers, and pilots. Some veterans return heroes whereas some return emotionally traumatized. Given that each military veteran’s experience is unique, it’s disconcerting to realize the portrayal of veterans in movies usually focus on certain negative stereotypes, and is impacting veteran’s ability to find employment.
Stereotypes of Veterans
Military Veterans face many difficulties transitioning back into civilian life including; finding employment, feeling alone, worrying about finances, and figuring out our next career move. What makes our transition more difficult is consistent negative portrayals of veterans in movies that reinforce negative attitudes towards veterans. Veterans in movies are usually portrayed as; explosive, disabled, depressed, mentally ill, violent, addicted, or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of these stereotypes originated from Vietnam era movies because it was an unpopular war, which many Americans held veterans personally responsible, and it turn lead veterans to become alienated from our society.  Although, public opinion about veterans serving today may be more appreciative, veterans today are still having difficulty finding employment with 69% reporting finding a job as their greatest challenge. . I’ve always thought of my experience as a veteran would be an attractive quality to an employer because my perception of a veteran; I know the dedication, integrity, sacrifice, and discipline it takes to serve; however, I wasn’t aware that employers are likely to look past these qualities and focus on the negative aspects of a veteran’s experience. 
When I started my research, I wanted to know how negative stereotypes towards veterans are impacting our ability to readjust to civilian life. My suspicion is movies are the source of these negative stereotypes because of their consistent portrayal of damaged characters. Yet, are movies to blame for these stereotypes, or do movies have a responsibility to portray veterans in these extreme roles to show the psychological and physical toll war takes on veterans, especially when news media reports little on these subjects. To investigate this in detail I watched 3 movies about veterans returning home from war. Each movie I chose was from a different war (e.g., World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq). The 3 movies I analyzed were, “The Best Years of Our Lives”, “Born on the 4th of July”, and “Stop-Loss”.
The Best Years of Our lives
The movie, “The Best Years of Our Lives” which was released in 1946 is one of the most important films concerning veterans returning home from war. This movie tells a story about three World War II veterans, and their struggles readjusting to civilian life. First there is Homer, who lost both his hands to a non-combat injury serving in the Navy. Homer is worried about how his family and fiancé are going to react to his prosthetic hooks when he returns home. Next there is Fred, an Air Force officer and pilot who is having difficulty finding a job. Fred believes the expertise he gained while serving in the Air Force should translate into a better career, however, he quickly discovers that expertise isn’t transferable to a civilian career. Lastly there is Al who returns home to his career as a banker and receives a promotion to oversee loans for returning veterans. Al struggles with alcoholism and reconnecting with his wife.
Overall this movie does a good job portraying the issues veterans faced as the returned home from World War II without portraying veterans in an explosive way. The Best Years of Our Lives was one of the first movies daring enough to deal with sensitive issues veterans faced, especially since this movie was produced during a time when America was proud of their veterans and there was enormous support for the war. What’s also interesting about this movie is the director, William Wyler, served in the military during World War II, and he directed this movie to present the issues of veterans to the American people to help them better understand the toll war took on them.
Born on the 4th of July
Born on the 4th of July is a movie about Ron Kovic who is a patriotic veteran returning home from the Vietnam war after becoming paralyzed from a gunshot wound during combat. This movie shows Ron’s struggles to adjust and integrate back into American society; one that doesn’t value his sacrifice. Ron spends months recovering inside a rundown VA hospital where resources are scarce, and veterans are seen abusing drugs and having sex with prostitutes. When Ron gets out of the hospital he realizes that American people have no respect for his sacrifice, which leads to him drinking heavily to deal with his isolation, disability, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Ron eventually realizes the government doesn’t value his sacrifice, which in turn leads him to become a political activist speaking out against the war he once supported.
Overall this movie does a good job illuminating issues veterans faced returning home from war. It exposes the horrific conditions veterans faced at VA hospitals, how public opinion didn’t support veterans, how veterans were dealing with disability and addiction. However, the problem with this movie is that it overgeneralizes the veterans experience. There are many reoccurring portrayals of veterans throughout the movie like veterans seen taking drugs, having sex with prostitutes, explosive tempers, disabled, and PTSD. Although, these issues are important to cover to show how some veterans were coping after the war, these consistent portrayals are damaging to veterans, especially at a time when veterans were not appreciated like they were after World War II. This like many other Vietnam movies use extreme violence and emotional scenes to really set home the degree of frustration the veterans faced.
Stop-Loss is a movie about veterans returning home from the Iraq war after their enlistment is over, and then being forced by the government to extend their enlistment due to a clause in the contract that forces veterans to serve past their originally agreed upon enlistment. The movie follows these veterans as they deal with many issues suffered from war, and whether they want to continue to serve in the military or become absent without leave. In the end they decide they have no choice but to continue their enlistment or become a criminal.
Although this movie brings to light the serious of issue of Stop-Loss, basically a backdoor draft, the movie painted veterans in appalling manner. One of the most damaging scenes in the movie is when the veterans return on home and they are about to be released for leave. In this scene their commander tells them; you will not drink and drive, if you pick up a young lady let her drive let her pick up the dui, you will not beat up civilians, you will not fuck anyone underage, you will not beat up your wife, you will not beat up your kids, and you will not kick your dog. This is so damaging because the commander says this to a squad of veterans which makes it seem like we all behave in this manner. If this scene wasn’t damaging enough the rest of movie continually portrays these actions throughout the movie.
Although, I think movies have a responsibility and should highlight serious issues veterans are facing leaving the military, I do believe that these stereotypes that are consistently portrayed are hurting veteran’s ability to readjust to civilian life, and is making it difficult for veterans to find employment. For example, I learned in one of my secondary sources, Factors impacting hiring decisions about veterans says, “some research revealed that veterans are often stereotyped as violent or ticking time bombs that may display their anger on the job at any point in time.”  Do movies such as Stop-Loss contribute to stereotypes like this?
Another research “found that Vietnam era veterans were perceived as having higher levels of psychological problems than non-veterans.”  Do movies like Born on the 4th of July contribute to these stereotypes?
When people continually see negative stereotypes of veterans in movies people start to believe these stereotypes exist predominately within the veteran community. Fortunately, there is a group called “Got Your 6” that is fighting back against the consistent negative stereotypes of veterans. “A study commissioned by Got Your 6 revealed that the general public currently reports seeing only extreme depictions of veterans.”  They say, “these portrayals significantly influence public perception of veterans overall, yet are not representative of the actual veteran population.” 
For a movie to become 6 certified is must show a fair and balanced representation of veterans and meet one of 6 requirements:
1. consult with real veterans
2. cast a veteran
3. hire a veteran writer
4. portray a veteran character
5. tell a veteran story
6. use veterans as resources on set or in writer’s rooms.
Hopefully with groups like Got Your 6, who are fighting back against negative stereotypes, the American population will see veterans portrayed as successful and valuable citizens to our communities, which in turn, will make it easier for veterans to find employment.
- Born on the 4th of July. Directed by Oliver Stone. Universal Pictures, 1989. Film
- “Got Your 6.” Got Your 6. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2017. <https://gotyour6.org/>.
- Stone, Christopher, and Diana Stone. “Factors affecting hiring decisions about veterans.” Human Resource Management Review 25.1 (2015): 68-79. Web. 15 May 2017. <https://doi-org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/10.1016/j.hrmr.2014.06.003>.
- Stop-Loss. Directed by Kimberly Pierce. MTV Films, 2008. Film
- The Best Years of Our Lives. Directed by William Wyler. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1946. Film