The U.S. public will clearly not repeat the mistakes of the Vietnam era, when war veterans returned to a nation that failed to acknowledge their sacrifice and service.

Veterans returning from America’s most recent wars are deservedly thanked and celebrated, personally and often publicly.

But while we now recognize their service, there is another more subtle offense we must also guard against.

When media coverage focuses on veteran suicides, post traumatic stress disorder and sexual aggression, we run the risk of assuming many, most or all veterans return as damaged or threatening human beings.

A recent study showed that many of the most publicized behavioral problems associated with service are no more common among veterans than among non-military men and women in the same age group.

For instance, it has been publicized that more American soldiers committed suicide, 349, than died in combat, 295, in Afghanistan in 2012.


Some have assumed this is the result of combat and repeated tours of duty.

But a recent study by the American Medical Association found the military suicide rate between 2001 and 2008 little different than the civilian rate.

The U.S. Army and the Institute of Mental Health found 18.5 suicides per 100,000 service members is slightly lower than the 18.8 rate among a demographically similar population of civilians.

The authors found many suicides were the result of financial and relationship problems, often compounded by substance abuse — the same factors often blamed for civilian suicides.

The researchers found no correlation between soldiers who had been deployed and those who had not and suicide rates.

The military suicide rate has crept up in recent years, but so has the civilian rate.


Some have also questioned estimates that 30 percent of returning vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Similarly high estimates were made just after the Vietnam War, but were later revised downward to about 10 percent, a large number to be sure, but about a third of the original estimate.

Others have questioned what seems to be an extremely high rate of service members reporting sexual assault, pointing out that the information comes from unscientific polls regarding “unwanted sexual contact.”

A law professor and member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Gail Heriot, has written there is “no evidence that the military has a higher rate of sexual assault than, say, colleges and universities. Indeed, what paltry evidence there is suggests the opposite.

Even if all of the most worrisome statistics are true and correctly interpreted, it is wrong to expand such assumptions to all or most returning veterans.

Most returning vets are not ticking time bombs, sexual predators or contemplating suicide.


They are more likely self-disciplined, task-oriented people trained to work in teams, often in need of a chance to start or resume civilian life.

Assuming otherwise is unfair and usually wrong.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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