The civilian military disconnect is something that non-homeless service members talk about, and it was especially prevalent in these oral histories. When asked what civilians might not particularly understand about the experiences of veterans, I got a wide variety of articulations of the same general theme of civilians not understanding what service members go through and judging them off of images from the media. Interviewees talked about how civilians do not understand the training and mindset of a service member, especially when it comes to asking for help. Carl says:


They don’t understand the things that we’ve been through. They don’t understand us. I think they look at us as somebody that’s been through a lot. They just don’t quite understand. They don’t really understand us. They don’t ever really figure us out. A lot of times I think that they look at us as being really crazy in the head, something like that. I notice that a lot of them stay out of our way… I would want them to know that we’re just individuals that not only served our country but we’re not bad individuals, we just got problems like anybody else that we’re trying to work though and we’re very nice people and very helpful. I know I am.[1]

In a way, Don responds to this statement through our interview when he says:

If they haven’t actually been through what we went through, they draw conclusions off of T.V. instead of actual facts.  So a lot of other people are misled about veterans.  You do have some good veterans, and you have some bad veterans.  I’m not saying we all are perfect, because we‘re human, we’re gonna make mistakes.[2]

The interaction between these two statements is exemplary of the sentiments of other participants in the project. The combination of preconceived notions about veterans, the lack of understanding about the military from the general public, and the addition of homelessness makes for a large disconnect for the interviewees.

Wilbur shares similar thoughts on the civilian military disconnect when he says:

I don’t think they know, they don’t understand, they don’t know that war is Hell, it’s a horrible thing. They don’t know the horrors of war.  You know what I mean. And there’s no way I can convince you of what I’ve seen and I’ve dealt with.  I can tell you, but you would still not understand.[3]

On the same subject, Calvin said:

Most civilians don’t know the sacrifices that most vets made. Like you said, most kids go in at 18-19 years old, took on the responsibility of defending this country. Yes, a lot of us have paid for it with their life. And then a lot of us have paid for it with the medical problems that come with it, broken limb, amputated limb, mental. Like right now it would never go out of my head, being under that water. Being woke up at night thinking, oh its time for us to shoot this thing right now. It’s time for us to destroy the world. That would never leave my memory. Sometimes I know right now I know I talk in my sleep. I been woke up and talking. That kind of stuff you would never get over that kind of stuff. It’s just a part of life I guess. Dealing with it.[4]

For Calvin, dealing with his post-traumatic stress disorder is something that he feels like keeps him from connecting to other people in his life as he feels like others do not understand that. Calvin is currently enrolled in a VA mental health care program where he is working with a mental health worker on his struggles with PTSD, but this invisible injury from his time in the service is one that he believes that he will carry with him forever. The challenge of readjustment back to civilian and family life is already a difficult adjustment, but if the soldier is facing any sort of invisible injury, such as combat stress, readjustment is made even harder by the masculine ideals that have been so deeply engrained into them as “the shared emphasis on toughness and loyalty foster[s] an uneasy double standard”[5] for confronting physical and mental health problems. These men have been trained and conditioned to not admit or show any weakness, and mental injury is seen as a major weakness. Soldiers are scared to admit they are struggling with combat stress or other issues because they do not want to be seen as weak, cowardly, or a sissy. They are also worried about the repercussions they might face from the military itself as one can be discharged for a mental injury.[6]

[1] Pollard, Carl. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 17, 2016.

[2] Nettles, Don. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 17, 2016.

[3] Evans, Wilbur. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 18, 2016.

[4] Golf, Calvin. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 17, 2016.

[5] Finley, Fields of 109.

[6] Ibid., 110-112.