Veterans Aren’t Victims

My latest for The Atlantic, "Stop Feeling Sorry for American Veterans, has posted.

My latest for The Atlantic, “Stop Feeling Sorry for American Veterans,” has posted. An excerpt:

Judging from media accounts, I’m the rare American veteran who isn’t homeless, homicidal, or suicidal.


[It’s] important not to let anecdotal evidence mislead us into thinking that most veterans are struggling to cope with life outside the structure of the service. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, according to the Census Department, America’s veterans are more likely to have a high school diploma than non-veterans, and have a much higher median income.

That’s not surprising, when you think about it. While the public may see veterans as saps who volunteered to do a dangerous job because they lacked other options, the fact of the matter is that simply getting into the military requires meeting demanding thresholds of physical and mental health, passing a criminal background check, and having a high school diploma. After selection, many wash out during entry-level training. I’m by no means arguing that every man or woman who’s ever served in our armed forces is a candidate for MENSA. But the selection process weeds out the weakest elements, and the training and mentoring system inculcates work habits and social skills that are invaluable in coping with life.


[I]t’s worth noting, the last few generations of veterans were all volunteers; we haven’t had a draft since 1973. For that matter, the 11th anniversary of 9/11 is fast approaching; that means all of our junior enlisted personnel and most of our junior officers volunteered during wartime. We chose to serve our country, got paid pretty well to do it, and reaped plenty of other benefits, tangible and otherwise.

We owe those who suffered permanent wounds, physical or psychological, the best care we can give them. We owe the families of those who never came home our sympathies, support, and generous benefits.

Speaking for the rest of us–the vast majority of those who served–you don’t owe us anything. Indeed, as Andrew Exum, who led Army Rangers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, argues, you’re probably already doing too much. You don’t need to stop us and thank us for our service; you already paid us for it.

And you sure as hell don’t need to feel sorry for us. On the whole, we’re doing better than the rest of you.

Read the whole thing at the link.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Just Me says:

    I wasn’t sure what the article would be about based on the title, but I agree-the all volunteer military generally results in a smarter and more capable military.

    I also think both liberals and conservatives like to use veterans and their real or imagined plight to score points.

    My husband joined the military because he wanted a specific type of training offered in the US Navy, along with a strong dose of patriotism.

    Most of his friends joined up for similar reasons.

    I also think after essentially being in war for 11 years that there aren’t any volunteers who have signed up without a clue that there is a war on.

  2. Thank you very much, James! This is important.

  3. DC Loser says:

    As a veteran, I am often embarrassed at the type of things that are said about us by non-vets. We’re not heroes, we did our jobs. I do think that those who came home with injuries and disabilities deserve the best care we can provide, and we should honor those who never came home.

  4. TastyBits says:

    Interestingly, the homeless, unemployed, ex-con, unwed single mother, racial minority, or any other protected group are never subjected to such analysis. Vets who will relinquish their veteran status will suddenly become a victim of society, corporations, conservatives, or any other evil group. These are protected groups, and there will be no limit to the help afforded to them.

    Thanking military personnel is bad form, but offering a kind word to one of the approved groups is never a problem. Free speech is only free for certain speech.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Hear, hear.

  6. Nikki says:

    @TastyBits: You are completely insane.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Insane or an idiot?

  8. TastyBits says:

    Is that really the best you have?

    @Michael Reynolds
    I know that you can do better.