Combatting Misconceptions Before
They Become Stigmas
By Jim Lorraine
CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership
Retired Air Force Officer and Flight Nurse
(22 years active duty)
Let’s be up front about this: misconceptions about, and within, the military do exist. Misconceptions and misinformation create stigmas that can create limitations for us, but only if we let them. Veterans are going to encounter misconceptions in the civilian world and within the military, but the key is not letting them turn into stigmas. We as veterans must talk about the truth and confront head-on the misconceptions to prevent the creation of stigmas. We have the power, so let’s use it! Not only for ourselves, but for the betterment of all our brothers- and sisters-in-arms. In this article, we examine several common misconceptions, and how together we can change them before they become stigmas.
A common problem within the military is that service men and women don’t acknowledge themselves or self-identify as a veteran. We hear it all the time: “I never saw combat, so I’m not really a veteran.” “I was only in the service for a couple years, so it’s not enough to consider myself a veteran.” A veteran is a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service for 90 days or more and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable—period. This misconception of veteran status holds veterans back from accessing life-improving opportunities. If you meet the veteran definition, you ARE a veteran. Be proud that you served and swore to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, no matter where or how you served. This is important not only to ensure you can receive support services available to veterans after your service, but also to ensure you are not publicly devaluing your service—or the service of your comrades.
Another misconception about the military is that all military members have direct combat experience. All of us who have served know this is not true. The military is self-supporting and operates globally, requiring many positions such as medical, transport, logistics, communications and administrative personnel, and more—all supporting the mission of the Department of Defense of deterring and protecting the security of our country. In fact, the lines between combative and non-combative personnel are blurring.
Consider a driver who must transport cargo across a road mined with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). All positions are vital to the end mission and every role is important. If we allow the misconception to continue that “only combat operatives are veterans” then we are devaluing so many vitally important roles. We cannot let this happen and must “combat” this stigma before it’s created.
A huge misnomer in the civilian world is that veterans should follow a career path that is the same as the duties they performed during their military career. This could not be further from the truth. Serving as a nurse or engineer in the military does not mean that you need to work in these same fields when you transition to civilian life. Your military service empowered you with incredible experience in a number of areas: discipline, strong work ethic, teamwork mentality, and many others that translate to any career field. Pursue your passions, no matter how different they may be from your military experience.
Finally, one of the most damaging misconceptions we must address is that military members who have suffered mental trauma or experience post-traumatic stress are “broken” or a risk. If you have post-traumatic stress, you are NOT broken! Many Americans have post-traumatic stress related to a shocking, scary, or dangerous event; it isn’t an experience reserved solely for those who have experienced combat. Even in the most serious of situations, post-traumatic stress is not necessarily a negative: it strengthens your ability to overcome adversity through an approach called post-traumatic growth.
Trauma can be overcome with proper treatment. We as veterans must remind ourselves, fellow veterans and the civilian population that post-traumatic stress can become a growing experience, and prevent the misconception of post-traumatic stress from becoming a truly damaging stigma.
Overall, we must remind ourselves that we have the power to stop misconceptions before they become stigmas. Here at America’s Warrior Partnership we work hard at the local and national levels to change misconceptions and educate communities, businesses and other institutions of the tremendous value that veterans have to offer after they transition to civilian life.
Our veterans deserve acknowledgement of their experiences and skills and should not be limited by misinformation, nor should we limit ourselves.
We have the power to change them!
Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national non-profit that helps veteran service organizations connect with veterans, military members and families in need.
Learn more about the organization at