The Media’s Positive Influence on Today’s Veterans (Guest Voice)
The Media’s Positive Influence on Today’s Veterans
by Levi Newman
Today’s military members and veterans have sacrificed a significant portion of their lives deploying to war-torn countries. Over a decade has passed since they started living in tents thousands of miles away from their families and loved ones, and in all that time they never stopped placing themselves in harm’s way to defend our great nation. Fortunately for them, this isn’t the Vietnam era. Service members today do have the support of America, and a lot of that has to do with the media.
But the media is only a small part of it. We, as the general public, need to be reminded that we sit safe inside our homes with access to all the digital amenities we’ve grown accustomed to—iPods, iPads and television—because veterans before us gave us that freedom. So, in essence, it makes it our responsibility to decide how we perceive the media’s coverage of the military. Our interpretation of the media’s coverage can be the difference between a supportive community that is willing to help men and women return to normal lives, and one of condemnation and disregard like Vietnam veterans.
The media can and should be credited for much of the public’s change in perception for our veterans. Those who have been touched by stories circulating through the news have resurrected veteran centers, generated funding for outreach programs, and created programs in honor and support of the military. Companies and nonprofits have even heeded the call, providing aid to those who have bravely fought to defend the United States.
Although the media’s portrayal of soldiers is not always focused on heroism or success, it often sheds light on the difficulties our nation’s heroes face and can instigate change. It is this positive effect that can be attributed to media coverage. As more and more programs are covered in local and national news, positive public perceptions are being grown, and the media makes wanting to help inarguably persuasive. It is this public awareness that is the first step in raising support for a cause.
Let’s go back to the general public’s perceptions. One of the favorite topics of news outlets are of the difficulties soldiers face when they have returned from combat. These stories, focusing on PTS, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and suicide, have created a negative connotation with many individuals. It even lead to a segment on NBC’s Dr. Phil titled “Heroes to Monsters?” where Dr. Phil disparaged PTS sufferers so adamantly that the viewers’ outrage required an apology from the show.
When the media highlights destructive behavior such as alcoholism or drug addiction, the public may react by forming negative opinions and consider members of the armed forces to be dangerous. On the contrary, strategic media coverage publicizes the disorders that our war heroes are experiencing every day, creating a better understanding and an empathy that inspires the public to reach out to these people and aid in their recovery.
For example, reports in 2003 focused on increased suicide rates among the military, especially for soldiers deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. The cause and effect of this trend in the media implemented immediate national concern, including augmentation of the Army’s suicide prevention program. Since that time, behavioral health resources are more easily accessible for all veterans and active duty members.
The media has done a sufficient job in portraying the realities of war, including the coverage of ceremonies honoring the return of fallen soldiers. Recently, the Obama administration lifted Dick Cheney’s ban on media coverage of these processions, so that America can view the sacrifices our military men and women choose to make. These images of decorated soldiers carrying caskets blanketed with the American flag, or a Navy’s tradition of burial at sea, are starting to show the price that must be paid for freedom.
Remember, the media can only give you the “tools” to work with, so it’s up to you and me to do our due diligence and empathize with these returning veterans. Some, but not all, will struggle returning to civilian life, so do your part and help them along in their journey.
Levi Newman is a 10-year U.S. Army veteran and the chief journalist behind Veterans United Network and VA Benefit Blog. Both publications offer news and advice for military veterans, and are proudly sponsored by Veterans United Home Loans. Connect with Levi today on Twitter or Google+.