With more troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, this Veterans Day sees a unique push for public awareness about the challenges that accompany a return to civilian life. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has a new book and A&E a new reality show, and the social science shows why we want to pay attention to veterans after they return from service. We have a few previous TROT posts on issues within the military, but unique problems arise in a civilian world which can often be less hospitable than the regiment.
Military service provides a number of social benefits upon returning home. The positive image of having served can even overcome negative stereotypes in civilian life and help advance veterans who have a history of delinquency.
- Alair MacLean and Meredith Kleykamp. 2014. “Coming Home: Attitudes Toward Veterans Returning from Iraq.” Social Problems 61(1):131-54
- Robert J. Sampson and John H. Laub. 1996. “Socioeconomic Achievement in the Life Course of Disadvantaged Men: Military Service as a Turning Point, Circa 1940-1965.” American Sociological Review 61(3): 347-367
After service, however, institutional problems in civilian life mean veterans don’t all face the same challenges when they return home. For example, the G.I. Bill offered a wide range of education and housing benefits, but historic racial inequality in civilian institutions often made it harder for vets of color to collect those benefits. Today, female vets are more likely to face unemployment than males. However, those with only a high school degree often do earn more than non-vets with only a high school degree, and they are more likely to be enrolled in college.
- Meredith Kleykamp. 2013. “Unemployment, Earnings and Enrollment among Post 9/11Veterans.” Social Science Research 42(3):836-51.
- Ira Katznelson. 2006. When Affirmative Action was White: The Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America. New York: W.W. Norton 2nd ed.
We can still do a lot of work to improve the military, particularly in leadership and adjudication, but it also has a history of positive institutional changes to address issues like racial inequality and reduce the risks of service for certain minority groups.
- James Burk and Evelyn Espinoza. 2012. “Race Relations Within the US Military.” Annual Review of Sociology 38: 401-422