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EgaoNoGenki's avatar

Why do I keep learning about many Army veterans later becoming failures in life?

Asked by EgaoNoGenki (1149points) January 13th, 2010

In one temp job, I knew of a mid-aged man (graying considerably, somewhere in his 50s) who unloaded boxes from trucks at a distribution center, and had a gruff disposition. He said he once operated tanks during Desert Storm.

In another temp job, I knew of another man also mid-aged who worked as a maintenance worker at City Hall. He said he was in the Army in the ‘70s, and elaborated over his time in Germany, etc.

Then I read about veterans being homeless in various articles.

What’s with former Army guys becoming failures in life?

(I would also like to have some hope for them. Do you know of former Army personnel who are at least reasonably successful now? What do they do now?)

Also, what are the statistics of people who in life after leaving the:

*Air Force
*Coast Guard
*Army National Guard
*Air National Guard?

What branch has the least amount of life’s failures amongst its former members, and why?

What branch has the most amount of life’s failures amongst its former members, and why?

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52 Answers

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PandoraBoxx's avatar

Failure is a judgement, and only your perspective.

You’re a high school student, with a life provided for and managed by to date your parents. You have to wait until you have to run your own life and live and die by your own decisions before you’re entitled to have an opinion on success/failure of adults.

For you, right now, success is measured by academic grades, which is an artificial system of measuring “success.” How’s your GPA? Sitting on a 4.0, are we? College scholarships? Full ride to a top 10 school?

PandoraBoxx's avatar

And, I should add, if you’re so young as to only think of Vietnam as a food genre, you have no fucking business having any sort of judgment about Vietnam veterans.

iphigeneia's avatar

You may want to replace the word ‘failures in life’ in your question with something like ‘homeless or in low-income/unskilled occupations’. Other than that, I would assume that upon leaving the armed forces these men may not have skills that can be transferred to higher-paid jobs, and they may have spent a lot of time overseas and become distanced from friends and family, not to mention they may have been psychologically affected by the trauma of combat.

EgaoNoGenki's avatar

@iphigeneia You’re right, iphi, you really are. I worded it such that it’s causing disdain from some of you, so I call upon the mods to take this question down.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

There are successes and failures in all populations. Since you are working in unskilled temp jobs, you are only meeting those who have done less well.

Many of the homeless are mentally ill and many of these mental illnesses are traceable to combat experiences. Who goes into combat F2F? Army and Marines.

Another issue is that Combats Arms MOSs do not translate into civilian job skills as readily as the support branches. My own MOSs 12A and 54A (Combat Engineers and Chemical Corps) don’t have many civilian applications.

I don’t consider it fair to make sweeping generalizations that Army, Marine, etc veterans are apt to be failures. Other factors such as education level, intelligence and motivation are far greater factors in determining financial success in later life.

EgaoNoGenki's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Yes, great points. What civilian application IS there for operating artillery or disarming land mines?

I should’ve worded it in a way that Iphi suggested, so this is the first question I’ve ever submitted on Fluther that I hope for the mods to push back into editing.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

A tank driver can operate heavy tracked equipment.Artillery? not much. There are collateral skills learned, however. If they did those tasks well, it means that they are trainable in other skills.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land, logistics transfers very well to project management in the private sector. My company hires a fair amount of vets in that capacity. There is a level of intuitive logistics and analytical thinking that seems to come from that field.

Pandora's avatar

I think your problem with your question is that you used the word failure. I think I know what you are trying to get at but I there are many reasons why someone may take a low wage job that have very little to do with being a retired military person. Some retire comfortably and just take a simple job to keep busy and get out of the home. Some decide to run their own business and fail or succeed the same as a civilian. Some retire in their last duty station because they like the town but employment is almost non existent. When my husband retired he got a local job that paid alright but it was his only option. However for the economy of the town it was considered good pay. It wasn’t till the company closed and we were forced to move because it was the only decent pay in the town. We had two kids in college so he had to try for something that paid better somewhere else. If we didn’t have two kids in college we would’ve stayed there. Success isn’t in your job title or pay, it is something determined by your own needs. If you are happy doing what you want to do than you are successful. We had a friend who got a job in Loews. We noticed a big difference in his happiness. He loved working with his hands and working at lowes he learned a lot about wood shop and he started to do home renovations after all the stuff he learned at lowes. He was having the time of his life. He said he felt completely stress free. Even his marriage had improved. To me that is successful. What ever the reason some have the employment they do, remember that retired civilians make the same decisions that a retire military person does. Now of course some suffer from p.t.s. and may have problems holding down a job but that is another issue.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I worked at a company where the guy that ran the loading dock was a Vietnam vet, in the army. He was a junior at the University of Chicago when he was drafted. DRAFTED. Made to go against his own choosing. He was a POW for a short period. Working on the loading dock is all he was able to do; 30 years later, the flashbacks made it impossible for him to do other work.

Some people end up in the military because they have no place else to go. It is not so much a career choice, but a means of having structure and basic needs of food and shelter met. Not everyone is career material, but everyone has value.

EgaoNoGenki's avatar

@Pandora Bravo! Although I would’ve liked it being broken into paragraphs, that was a gripping story nonetheless!

I guess plenty (most?) of the veterans who are homeless are so probably because they have PTSD. Yes, someone did make a point of mentally ill people being homeless, and you explained that such ill people may have problems keeping jobs.

You’re right; success is being happy about the job, and stress-free. Sometimes there are jobs that pay 6-figures but if they’re miserable there, then that’s less successful (in a way at least) than someone only making 40-grand.

I guess whenever I reach my retirement years, I’ll keep busy by operating an online business. To stay out of the home, I guess I’ll have a motorhome who chauffeurs me around the country for me. (By the time I reach my retirement years, vehicles will have an autopilot so that we no longer have to stay at the wheel. We’ll just need to enter a destination by voice-command.)

@PandoraBoxx If I was drafted against my will, I would’ve just packed up and driven to Canada. They had a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule regarding draft-dodgers at border crossings, so they welcomed them in.

Anyway, I guess if I successfully get into the Air Force, the only way I’ll kill someone or blow something up is if I do so from hundreds of miles away by operating UAV predator drones. That should hopefully keep me from getting PTSD. (After taking my ASVAB, the subscores indicated that I am qualified to operate those storied unmanned craft, so I’ll hopefully not need to fight close-quarters anytime soon, or ever.)

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@EgaoNoGenki, you may think you would, having the historical perspective of the Vietnam era behind you, but going through a situation in real time is quite different.

In my coworker’s case, his family had a tradition of military service. His dad went through med school after WWII on the GI bill. It was unthinkable that your country would throw young men in harm’s way for no purpose. It was disappointing his father that caused him to go.

daemonelson's avatar

This is a damned good question. I have no idea why people are getting so angry about it.

I’m not sure of the specifics, but this site appears to have some information, on america at least.

willbrawn's avatar

I am by no means a veteran or have even served in the military. But I recently saw Brothers (2009 film) and that made me think. With all these men and women they see things that can scar people and severely alter the way you view life. Of course some younger people will think they would be able to handle it because of what media we take it. But I know a Marine that has served two tours in the middle east, and his friend who was only 20 tried committing suicide because he wanted to leave that place so bad. They have seen death and its hard to deal with.

Cruiser's avatar

Recently I had the chance to discuss the topic of employment after discharge from the service with a vet who served in Afghanistan. The culture shock from military to civilian life aside he said he was astounded and disgusted beyond belief at the laziness of US workers. He went through a series of 3 different jobs that his military trained him to do and at each job not only were the workers inefficient and lazy by US military standards the management was ineffective at even giving a shit about all the inefficiencies. After numerous run ins with the management for questioning these obvious issues he quit each job and since started his own highly successful business.

So expect that the differences between an efficient military life to the chaotic life and society we call the US of A is may cause many veterans to have so much difficulty adjusting and assimilating to civilian life.

lonelydragon's avatar

Like you, I have observed vets who didn’t live up to their full potential after returning to the States (as others have said, you could’ve been more tactful and not called them failures). Among those who were homeless or underemployed, I noticed that they generally had their high school diplomas at best. Not finishing high school or taking some form of higher education may limit their job prospects.

Also, vets often have difficulty re-integrating into civilian society, for a number of reasons. First, civilian life is unstructured compared to the strict routines they followed in the military. For them, the military lifestyle is normal (especially if they’ve been in it for many years since young adulthood), and they may have trouble adjusting. Second, a number of vets suffer from PTSD and struggle to resume normal socialization patterns. I know one vet who can’t go to theaters or restaurants because he is afraid of keeping his back to a crowd of people. Obviously, if a person can’t cope with being in a crowd, it will be harder for him to get a job.

Unfortunately,many young people (and older ones, too) don’t seem to think about the long-term consequences when they sign up for duty, and no one warns them, either. In psychological research, if an experiment distresses a research participant, the psychologist has to de-brief or un-disturb them after the study is over so that the person is in the same condition as he was before he participated. In a similar manner, vets need counselors who can help them process their experiences and return to normal levels of functioning. Unfortunately, counseling is expensive, and many vets can’t afford it or get help with the treatment.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@lonelydragon @Cruiser I love both of your answers. Speaking as a retired officer, I find the lack of structure in civilian life puzzling. I can’t imagine how things actually get done.

If not for retirement pay and investment income, I could just as easily be one of those homeless. Although I had a fine education, through graduate school in two fields, I haven’t done anything with that education that would be of interest to a civilian employer. Add that to major depression and recently-diagnosed Aspergers Syndrome and the prospect of future employment is bleak indeed.

I gave my country 29 years of my life, by choice. If I can see little employment prospects, I can imagine what it would be like for a person with little more than high school and 4+ years as an 11-Bravo.

Val123's avatar

I don’t think we were in Germany, at least not in a war situation in the 70’s!

zephyr826's avatar

My husband serves in the Army National Guard, and he finished up a year in Afghanistan a few months ago. He was fortunate enough to come back to the job he left. Many of his fellow veterans did not have that option. The companies they worked for had closed in the year they were gone, or downsized to the point that their position no longer existed.
I also have seen how much military service disrupts your life. My husband is 24, and has two associates degrees. On three separate occasions he has enrolled in college for a semester, only to be forced to drop all his classes for a military commitment that would be occurring during the semester. Now that he’s back, we’re talking about him going back to school, but even with the GI bill, we’re not sure that we can afford it. This happens to many of America’s young men and women, whose military commitments put their education on hold, and when they return, it’s difficult to motivate oneself back into school, as they’re older (if not physically, then emotionally) than all of the people around them.

jerv's avatar

One thing I did not see as I skimmed through here: Many Vietnam vets were drafted into the Army; they didn’t join by choice. Many Vietnam vets are, for lack of a better word, failures. Lots of broken men that can’t get make it on their own but can’t get the help that they need.

@Cruiser I’ve been out for >10 years and I still don’t get how we do things in the civilian world.

@lonelydragon I know that my exit from the was pretty much along the lines of, “Here is your DD-214 and don’t let the door hit you in the ass!”. Considering how hard a time I have adjusting to new situations and to people anyways, that pretty much left me scratching my head for a couple of years trying to figure out which end was up.

avvooooooo's avatar

There are many people who end up in the armed forces because they failed at life as a young adult. They can’t handle college, work, whatever. They don’t do well without people telling them what to do. So they go into the armed forces where people tell them what to do and they have a limited responsibility for themselves and stay in a kind of stasis for several years, not really doing any growing up. Then they get back into the world and haven’t grown up any and are in the same place that they were when they went in, but with a sense that they’re something special because they served in the armed forces. Still, they learned next to no life skills, next to no money management skills, next to nothing practical that they can use when they get out… And people wonder why they don’t do well at life? Its not really a big mystery if you look the situation and use critical thinking skills.

CaptainHarley's avatar

There are veterans who fail, yes, but the reasons often have little or nothing to do with their military service. Most veterans who are homeless have serious psychological issues, or are on drugs, or are alcoholics. In general, the percentage of veterans who have problems later in life is no higher or lower than for any other large-scale segment of the population. What you are hearing is largely anecdotal.

mammal's avatar

i don’t see that holding down a job is a failure, can you imagine coming from a military environment, with a sense of purpose and intensity, to stacking shelves in walmart? What worries me is the disposable nature of servicemen and women. The horrible objectification of human beings into equip-mental terminology like Unit or Asset, or worse killing machine etc, that process is hardly suitable for adapting to civilian life, once removed from the military context. Ex servicemen are left floundering for a meaningful existence, thrust into menial jobs and managed by that unpleasant breed of manager who has assumed a position of authority for all the wrong reasons.

Pandora's avatar

@mammal You bring up a valid point about servicemen left floundering to find a meaningful existence. However being considered part of a Unit or Asset is not a horrible thing.
To be part of a Unit means that you are unified in your goals. It is a brotherhood or sisterhood that you don’t see in the civilian world. However, like the civilian world not everyone has the mentality to think that way. To be an asset means that you have particular gifts that make you valuable. Now as for being a killing machine, that would be the most difficult transition to make.
There are many military people who go through several job transitions during their time in service and do learn other trades. Or who go back to school to get a degree before they retire.
The biggest flaw I see with the military system is in how they help them adjust to civilian life. They teach them how to interview and make job fairs assessable and also teach them to write a resume but they don’t teach them (at least not when my husband retired) about the emotional toll the seperation will have on them or their families. You go from a perfectly orderly way of life to one that is disorderly.
You go from a family of thousands to a family of one. Its almost like being kicked out of your home. Sure your family won’t stop caring for you but you know you can only visit and never stay. You can never go home again.
As for a breed of manager who assumed a position of authority for all the wrong reasons, the military has at times made the same errors. There are always loopholes in any system and there will always be people who can wrangle their way around it.

CaptainHarley's avatar

The military is one of the last repositories of honor, committment, sacrifice and loyalty remaining in America. People in almost every other facet of the economy pursue the almighty dollar with a singlemindness that is almost frightening. Although I served over 34 years in one form or another, even having been allowed to serve for two or three years would have been an honor and privilege. There are “carreerists” in the military just as there are in civilian life, but they are fewer and further between.

EgaoNoGenki's avatar

@CaptainHarley Well put, CH. Now, is GTravels also on Fluther? I can’t find her on the site-wide search. What’s her username here?

Pandora's avatar

@EqaoNoGenki – My Husband wanted to put in his two cents on your questions.

From a Retired Enlisted Marine
I enjoyed my time in the service. Had small regrets (not being home for those special family occasions), but my family understood and adjusted. I dont see myself as a failure, and in my current position interact with many retirees who have made it a point to better themselves.

The Marine Corps provided me with experiences that helped me in my civilian career. Teamwork; leadership; pride in successfully completing tasks; organizational skills; being a great listener and speaker; and most importantly being thorough. These skills/experiences led me to assist an Assistant Secretary, two Deputy Assistant Secretaries and a Chief of Staff for an organization within the Department of Homeland Security. I contribute this to my time spent in the service of my country and continue to do so as a civilian. Some service members may feel that they are not qualifed for anything worthwhile in the public sector. I say if you have proven yourself capable while you were in the Armed Forces, then you do have something to contribute and can continue to do well in the civilian sector.

jerv's avatar

@Pandora One nice thing about making NCO is that even if your rating/MOS skills are not really applicable to civilian jobs, the organizational and leadership skills, sense of accountability, and attention to detail still carry over. If you can actually use your military specialty to land a civilian job (like me becoming an electrician), that is just a bonus.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Thank you. I don’t know what has happened to her. I seem to have lost track of her on here somehow, but I will send her an email and inquire.

mammal's avatar

@Pandora well your husband managed the transition, many don’t, and one or two i’ve met who are working reasonably successfully, are distracted, dogged by combat experiences that aren’t conveniently brushed aside in civilian life, where the ethos is completely different.

Pandora's avatar

—@mammal This is true, but the reason I avoid this is because the public at large has this concept in their minds that all soldiers who come back are broken in spirit, mind and or body. There are many who are able to compartmentalize their experiences and move on. Some are able to use their experiences to make themselve stronger in spirit and not take life for granted.

Yes it is a different life but its not different from what they once knew before they joined. It just takes some a little longer to get re-introduced. Sometimes it just has to do with aging. A lot of changes happen in 20+ years and being in the military is almost like being in a time warp. When you get out, you are in your 40’s and you find yourself competeing with a bunch of 20 year olds who have fresh and new ideas.
My last boss use to like to talk about how long she was in the business and how she liked to do everything old school. Needless to say she did not get along with many people who where looking to move forward and not backwards. Sometimes its just a closed minded way of thinking that leads to failure. Sure enough, she was let go because she was making business suffer. She was never in the military.
My point is that there are hundreds of reasons that people fail or succeed. The military does not have a monopoly on that.

avvooooooo's avatar

@Pandora Not necessarily when it comes to the public idea that these people are “broken.” Its not just the public that causes these soldiers to potentially not do well, many times its the soldiers themselves and their inability to resolve the different reality inside the military with the reality outside of it.

jerv's avatar

@avvooooooo Yeah, there is a huge disconnect between military life and reality.
Sadly, it makes it easy for us to forget that people in the military are still people!

lonelydragon's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land I am surprised to hear that, especially since you have advanced degrees. You would think that employers would be interested in the transferrable skills you learned as an officer (i.e. management and leadership).

@jerv I’m sorry to hear that. There really should be some type of exit counseling for vets.

jerv's avatar

@lonelydragon As far as I know, the closest the military gets to mental health is turning us into alcoholics. Trust me, the military is not good at mental health, counselling, or anything like that. “Counselling” is your superior yelling at you to get your shit together.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@jerv Ain’t that the truth! And then the leadership has the gall to act surprised every time a new study comes out that shows a high suicide rate among military personnel.

lonelydragon's avatar

@jerv Aha. True. But I meant that the counseling could come from the VA (though we all know how well that would work out)

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@lonelydragon Not entirely fair. There are good VA’s, and not so good VA’s. Many of the good ones are staffed by the same physicians from local medical schools. Again, they can range from horrible to excellent.

jerv's avatar

@Dr_Dredd That’s as may be, but there are those of us who would NEVER want to deal with the government again in any way, shape, or form if we can help it. My distrust of anything remotely bureaucratic runs deep enough that it would take a couple of years of therapy just to get me to deal with the VA in the first place.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@jerv Oh. Sorry to hear that. Are we still friends even though I work for the VA? :)

jerv's avatar

@Dr_Dredd Yes. It’s one of those things were I hate the game, not the players.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@jerv Oh, good… :)

lonelydragon's avatar

@Dr_Dredd—I guess it depends on where you live. Unfortunately, I have not heard any positive stories (not that I’m averse to hearing good news. Quite the opposite. I’d be glad to hear about someone who was helped).

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@lonelydragon My uncle Danny was a WWII pilot. For most of his later years, he received all of his care through the VA system in South Florida. They saw him through multiple cardiac procedures. He couldn’t praise them enough before he passed away a few years ago.

jerv's avatar

@Dr_Dredd In fairness, I know that the VA has treated my downstairs neighbor (who was at the Siege on Khe Sahn and is on 100% disability for PTSD) fine. Of course, each case is different and after what I had to go through merely to get my final W-2 form so I could file my tax return (two years late) was pretty much the last straw when it came to me having anything to do with anything remotely military.

I know it’s not entirely rational, but it is what it is.

lonelydragon's avatar

@Dr_Dredd I am glad to hear that he was treated well (though sorry for your loss). Unfortunately, most of the Iraq war vets that I’ve talked to or read about have not been given such good treatment. Of course, there could be a number of reasons for that. Resources are probably spread thin. And it could also be that th egood stories don’t get reported as often. I wish I could say that I knew a recent vet who had a similar experience to your uncle.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

I suspect you’re right. The Iraq War veterans are overwhelming the system in many places. Yet another example of the previous administration’s wanting to “shrink the government to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.” :-(

jerv's avatar

@Dr_Dredd Government “interference” is a double-edged sword.

Personally, I feel that anybody who believes that the government shouldn’t intervene in the affairs of business and/or should stay out of healthcare should also lose any/all protections of the police and military; why should we pay to protect the property (or lives) of someone else? No Red Cross aid, no humanitarianism, don’t even bother calling an ambulance if they get hit by a car. They want “every person for themselves” them let them have it :)

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@jerv Works for me!

Rangie's avatar

Well, most of you probably won’t want to hear what I am going to say. My husband is a combat wounded veteran, left for dead blown up in a tree, in Korea. When he realized he was alive, he began crawling out of the tree. He dragged himself along the ground toward his men. Enemy fire all around. He kept crawling suddenly a voice said hey, we left you for dead. Then the guy ran to help him back to the tanks. My husband walked with the support of his friend, with his left left nearly torn off. He was hit everywhere but his head. He made it back home, and had many, many months of recovery.

When he was drafted he was sent directly to the front lines after boot camp. He was only 18, but with a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility for himself.
He was in the Army and is a proud veteran today. After he recovered sufficiently enough, he resume his life in the Country he fought for.
He started as a meter reader. He has dyslexia and that was one of his major hurdles. He had the will and fortitude, but need a little help with the reading. He studied and got his contractors license. He did everything from felling trees, digging ditches, grooming ski slopes, blasting, building, welding and anything else he set his mind to. Key words (set his mind to).
He made a great success of himself. He has a wonderful family, a vacation home in the mountains, a vacation home on the ocean. He is 80 years old and remodeling my kitchen as I speak. I realize not all veterans can do this, but I think a good number of them have no desire, fortitude and thought of what they might try to accomplish after their time in the service.
We can’t even find a young man willing to do any kind of heavy work. And if we do, they last a few hours and need to go home and rest. I am only a girl and an old one at that, but up until a few years ago I was helping him in his construction business. I ran a backhoe, a snowplow and even worked in those ditches. Why did I do that? Because we couldn’t find any young men we could count on. They were not in the service, they wouldn’t last in the service.
Sorry this is so long, but his story requires a lot of words for what he has done with his life.

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