Healthcare · Veteran Suicide

How Hollywood is Killing Veterans

Among veterans there are a veritable litany of phrases. I got your six. Where’s your SA? Tactical trunk monkey. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Tragically, there’s a new phrase. A hashtag, even. #22kill.

No, this isn’t a reference to a sniper count. Rather, it references the 22 veterans a day that commit suicide, and we use that hashtag to bring awareness to the issue, and show our desire to kill that statistic.

But, it seems that we veterans are trying to push our cannons uphill (another phrase) against the onslaught of popular culture that paints us as crazy, bloodthirsty, PTSD shitbags that are just waiting to crack and kill everyone around us. And Hollywood is the worst.

This isn’t a new thing. Apocalypse Now, Platoon, A Few Good Men, even Commando showcase military members as crazed killers that any normal human could never relate to. Ask anyone about Vietnam veterans and PTSD and they’ll tell you that everyone came back from Vietnam crazy, addicted to opium, or both. Just so you now, according to the VA Dept’s National Center for PTSD, just over 13% of Vietnam veterans experience PTSD. Opium addiction is less.

In 2008 a movie about the recent wars came out, and it was called The Hurt Locker. In that movie the hero, Jeremy Renner, is a sergeant in an Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit in Iraq. The closest this movie came to real life is that there were EOD units in Iraq. That’s about it.

The movie shows this “maverick” sergeant running around sniping people, stripping off his blast suit to disarm car bombs, running around off base, and a lot of other things that would never happen in real life. I watched the movie in the theater with a dozen other military members, and we laughed our ass off through the whole film.

Little did I know what that movie would do to us vets.

Along with The Hurt Locker came Jarhead, In The Valley of Elah, Generation Kill. Each of these films portrayed the military and veterans as crazy, untreatable, manic. Now, to be fair, in recent years we’ve had movies such as Lone Survivor or Restrepo come out to show the more valiant efforts of the military. But the damage had already been done.

A recent USA Today article, or as I like to say, hatchet job, discusses the concerns with hiring military veterans as police officers. The authors of the article are from the Marshall Project, focusing on law enforcement issues, and they even state that their evidence is anecdotal and not statistically viable. Yet they then continue to showcase how veterans are more likely to use excessive force, kill themselves, or put their fellow officers at risk. This is in direct contrast to a recent article from NPR which shows, also anecdotally, that military veterans are far less likely to use lethal force than non-veteran police.

For us veterans who have served in a combat zone, articles like this are incredibly frustrating. Movies like Hurt Locker and TV like Generation Kill are also incredibly frustrating. And for some of us, we lose hope.

Why even try to fight our own demons if the rest of the world doesn’t want us around? Why try to get better when everyone thinks we’re crazy, broken, and useless?

#22kill. The only way to kill the statistic is through educating the civilian population about what us veterans are truly like.

12% of veterans have PTSD. Statistically, the same number as Vietnam and Gulf War veterans. Yet now have Hollywood showcasing PTSD as the easy trope for their scripts, the Deus Ex Machina of choice as of late.

And it’s killing us.

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