Those are the seemingly contradictory findings of a new report from the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute released this week. Researchers found that while most Americans had generally positive views of veterans and few negative stereotypes about them, they also were reluctant to recommend that others follow their example.
“It is one thing to hold military members in high esteem in the abstract, but it is something altogether different to recommend military service as a career path,” the researchers wrote. “Having an all volunteer force means that serving is an occupational choice, one that fewer and fewer Americans appear to be willing to make.”
The 2022 survey of more than 2,400 people found that roughly 54 percent said they would discourage someone they know from enlisting in the military, although more than 61 percent said they would encourage those same individuals if they wanted to attend a service academy or enter a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.
Researchers said they did not collect clear data on the reasons for the split, but said that across all questions, about one-quarter of individuals surveyed would not recommend signing up for any military service.
That comes despite findings that “perceptions of veterans by the public are overwhelmingly positive,” according to the report. Roughly 67% of respondents stated that veterans are more hardworking and more reliable than the rest of society. More than half described veterans as self-disciplined, responsible, practical and self-reliant.
“There is a general feeling of deservingness of respect and policy support from the public and government among the public when it comes to veterans, stemming from perceptions of sacrifice,” the report stated.
“The survey data we examined suggest that fears about the public holding outsize negative stereotypes about veterans are unwarranted, and most stereotypes held are in fact overwhelmingly positive.”
The only negative stereotype with a sizable backing in the survey was the idea that veterans may be violent towards themselves. Of individuals surveyed, 46% believed that veterans were likely to cause self-harm, in part driven by public perception of post-traumatic stress problems among military members.
Authors of the study said the findings are significant now given the recruiting challenges facing the military. Army, Navy and Air Force officials all missed their recruiting goals for fiscal 2023.
“The public’s willingness to consider joining the military or recommending that others join is likely to be influenced to some degree by how they think of veterans,” the report stated. “Holding more-positive stereotypes toward veterans is associated with higher probability of recommending joining the military, and holding more-negative stereotypes reduces the probability.”
The full report is available on the RAND website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.