Opinion: Veterans won’t help the recruiting crisis until our issues are addressed

Veterans aren’t going to put lipstick on a pig.
Jenna Carlton Avatar
millennial veteran
(Task & Purpose composite image)

“How can I feel comfortable advocating for military service when so many members of our community don’t feel welcome or even have their needs met?” I asked at a recent panel titled “Changing Perceptions, Shaping Futures: Breaking Down Barriers Between Veterans and Gen Z.” 

The panel’s goal was to clear up misconceptions about the military and panelists included representatives from the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, the Veterans Administration, the Military Officers Association of America, and an active sergeant in the U.S. Army. 

They answered my pointed question, acknowledging the bad press the Defense Department and VA get, chalking it up to bad news always receiving more attention than the good. They encouraged veterans to help aid this issue by speaking up about the great opportunities the military has given them. 

I wasn’t surprised by the media-trained answer. I did take one thing away, though: he said that we should let these organizations know how we feel. So that’s what I am doing. 

Veterans aren’t going to put lipstick on a pig. 

Military service can’t be glamorized when so many of us are traumatized.

Some great experiences and opportunities have come out of serving, however, the pain our community experiences is real. We cannot minimize that fact. As veterans, we have first-hand experiences in how much the military can impact our well-being. Also, many of us were given unrealistic expectations of what our military service would be like, and don’t want to continue that cycle. 

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Now, on the outside, we can compare the daily stress of deployments, bureaucracy, lack of agency, family life, and physical and mental health to what we experience now in the civilian world.

We have experienced the transition out of service, undoubtedly one of the most challenging, critical experiences for any veteran. The first year out is when the risk of suicide is highest and we are still scrambling for ways to figure that issue out.  

The VA was promised as a way to heal after service, but when wait times are six months or more, you can’t help but feel discouraged. The lack of care leaves us questioning if we are even worth it. If I have to ask that question, how could I possibly recommend my daughters to join, let alone a stranger?

There has been progress on these issues by both the Defense Department and VA, but not enough for me to feel good about influencing young people to join. The best I can do is tell potential recruits to do their research and speak with veterans to make sure the military is the right fit, while also encouraging veterans to be honest about their service. No one should raise their right hand without knowing exactly what they are signing up for.

Together, we can make the military a better place to serve. But military leaders shouldn’t look to veterans for help filling their quotas until they can look us in the eyes and tell us there’s been meaningful progress on some of the most pressing issues.

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