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A Vet’s View: Why young veterans do not integrate with older ones

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By Louis J. Finkle
Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology
The number one problem of nearly all military-oriented groups is trying to determine how to attract younger veterans to participate in activities with older ones. For years I have been trying to determine its effects on the RV lifestyle we enjoy. No matter the age of people I question, the answers to my questions come down to “social” differences between older and younger-minded veterans. There are more factors expanding the chasm than connecting the parties.

Separation of age groups is a phenomenon that most military veteran organizations are facing. Whether it be lodges, NGOs, campgrounds or RV groups, we have been wrestling with this problem for years. There are many issues that need to be addressed when recruiting younger veterans to join military-oriented organizations. As a retired Clinical Psychologist, when interacting with veterans and in reading studies, I am learning why so many differences exist between generations.

Here are a few differences that come to mind

Older veterans’ post-service life included decades of opportunities to develop one’s civilian persona. They had decades to experiment with social norms and adopt habits that feel comfortable to them. Those 50-plus years lack early exposure to social-media experiences that are currently multiplying at an exponential rate. Using skills taught to us in the last quarter century, the leap to “immediate access to unlimited data” throws many into panic mode. Even today, as I type this, a retired Colonel came into the senior center so that I could teach him “How to send a message using his email account.” He assumed it was set up for him to just “read” what his family was saying!

Younger veterans, however, deal with current transitioning issues of children, liberal beliefs, greater energy, different interests and fresh ideas. Most were born after it was necessary to program one’s own software. Even within the internet universe, younger folks are on different platforms and engage in abbreviated speech (LOL, BTW, SYL, NRN…). Younger veterans are found in places that are not frequented by older veterans. Better to fish than to play “Fish!” More exciting to pedal a bike than to push a lever on a scooter. Riding a horse beats pitching horseshoes. Discussing videos on TikTok beats discussing Bogart’s performance in “Casablanca.” After discussing these differences with older and younger veterans, I find both groups living in different milieus. Been there!

How do we integrate our vets?

After the military, I went on to study at universities. As president of the veterans’ fraternity, I wrote a “VETS VIEW” column in the newspaper for two years. Representing hundreds of young veterans, I visited local lodges of veterans for news items. I was brushed off as a “student,” not a fellow veteran. Was I “too young” at age 26? Did they not have similar problems of integrating young and older veterans? I believe not! Having been on both sides of the age chasm, I understand the differences now. What I still don’t know is “How do we integrate both age groups?” When my SMART brothers and sisters help me create a list of “Ways to Integrate Old and Young Veterans,” I will let you know. If you want to help, let me know at loufinkle2@gmail.com

Louis J. Finkle, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology, U.S. Navy veteran and a member of the national organization of RVing veterans S*M*A*R*T. 

ABOUT S.M.A.R.T. — The club brings military veterans, and their families together to share camaraderie, travel, camping, and support to our veterans. All active, retired, and honorably discharged veterans from U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces, interested in recreational travel, and sharing the camaraderie developed in the military are welcome. This includes: Reserve, National Guard, Air National Guard, Coast Guard, and also USPHS, and NOAA. Learn more or join.

##RVT1004

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Bruce Atkinson PhD
1 month ago

Dr. Finkle,
I too am a PhD clinical psychologist, and I am also a USAF Veteran (including the Vietnam fiasco). Thus I am certainly qualified to speak here.

Before we should discuss in detail why young veterans do not easily integrate with older veterans, we need to access all the research data that confirms that young people in general do not integrate with older people. They do not, and it is an old story; different generations perceive things differently.

I do not think that veterans have any special problem in this area compared to the population in general. In fact, being a veteran tends to draw young and old together… as I have seen in the American Legion and in church.

DW/ND
1 month ago

Reading the many comments below leads me to believe the veterans organizations are not doing a very good job of telling of their true worth to the communities in which they are located. Young vets, old vets – we are all the same in common beliefs and support. For example how many veterans or civilians for that matter know the slogan of the American Legion? “Still Serving!” Veterans, combat or support, know the price of freedom and what it takes to preserve it. Members of vet organizations continue serving their local communities – they aren’t drinking clubs as some pointed out below!!! Yeah, they have a beer or two – just a part of the camaraderie of service members. We don’t sit around and discuss our past service – rather we plan programs for kids, families, of everyone thruout the local locale. We also contribute to support fellow veterans and needed programs and the VA as well. Think about it! Check a local vet organization – you might find you have something more to give..

DW/ND
1 month ago
Reply to  DW/ND

….By the way – we aren’t “EX” anythings. If anything we are “former members of _____”. And yes, I am retired and a “former” with 42 yrs. 7 mos. and 28 days!

Drew
1 month ago

As a non vet, I don’t see why it’s so important that younger and older ones need to integrate. Aside from their service- there isn’t much in common except maybe for Marines. I respect them immensely. As a civilian I always thought like I was getting a free ride- not ever serving my country.- And, I have you gentlemen to thank and be thankful for. Be proud- thanks for everything you’ve done for us all.

Roger V
1 month ago

I retired from the Air Force after 20 years in Budget and Finance. That was 25 years ago. Basically, I was working hard to make sure those in combat AFSCs got paid and got the supplies and equipment they needed. Made one exploratory visit. Have never joined vet organizations though because of the condescending attitudes of the folks I ran into who were in the combat career fields. Moved on a long time ago. It is interesting though. We camp at a lot of military campgrounds, and have never encountered those attitudes there.

Last edited 1 month ago by Roger V
RSB
1 year ago

One. There is a difference in Vietnam era vets who were drafted and generally dislike the military versus career military that maintains a very positive view of the military.

Two. There is also a divide between combat vets and those who did their military job elsewhere.

Three. I also had issues in one vet group where we talked about our life. These were all career vets from non combat MOSes and also drunks and/or wife beaters. I despise wife beaters, drunks and have no shared veteran experiences with non-combat MOS vets.

MRP
1 year ago
Reply to  RSB

You can add a Fourth. Those who’ve served for less than the required number of years to retire (normally 20) and those who are over 20 year vets. Disabled vets go into the over 20 category for this purpose. Seems lots, if not most, non-lifer vets (served a few then got out, no disability) want all the perks of retired vets. My opinion is, the retired vets EARNED what they get, discounts – access to on-post places, etc. The others have not payed their dues and should not expect what retirees get. JMO

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  MRP

I served 7 years an 7 months to the day, did my time in Vietnam, and the only thing I asked of the VA was educational benefits to help pay bills during my apprenticeship. I am 79 retired from the work force and doing well I guess. In all the years since 11/10/69 since my discharge I had never joined any post service organizations primarily due to working shift restrictions. 2 years ago I was contacted by the VFW and joined, I never heard on word or welcome from the local chapter and when my year membership expired I didn’t look back. I do take discounts offered by stores like Lowes, Home Depot as part of my veteran benefits but most of the time I don’t even ask, if it wasn’t for my wife reminding me I’d probably never ask.

Gary
1 month ago
Reply to  MRP

And it’s snobby, ungrateful comments like this that divide veterans. What a bunch of bull crap.

Samuel Shryock
1 year ago

People congregate with people that have shared experiences. Due to the rapid and drastic changes in the military, it should be no surprise that there are large gaps between experiences. Heck, I have been out for about 10 years and I cannot even recognize the Army of today.

I think you are also experiencing the same issues that other fraternal and social organizations are seeing with declining membership. Newer generations are not seeing these organizations as attractive because the newer generations socialize differently and these organizations have not changed with those needs. For example, the newer generation dislikes featured speakers and lectures and prefers more face-to-face interaction and conversation. Family is more important, so they want activities to incorporate them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Samuel Shryock
Bob
1 year ago

I’m a Viet Nam vet and to this day believe we have never been treated correctly. I have stayed away from all Vet organizations and lived a very full and content (happy) life.

David Dougherty
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob

I would have to agree with you.  When I moved to South Florida in 1980, I went to the local VFW and was told by the doorman that Vietnam Vets were not welcome, because we had not been in a war.  Since I rarely drink alcohol, I probably would not have enjoyed the club, and I never joined another veterans drinking club.  I still would not.

Ray Shepherd
1 year ago

I think it depends on what area of the country you live. I got back from Vietnam May 1967. I went back home to Hamilton Twp. New Jersey. The first week I invited 4-5 of my fellow Marines who served with me in Vietnam for a weekend of partying. and one of the first things we did was go to my local VFW. They welcomed us with open arms, gave us all free membership and and all drinks free that night.

RSB
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob

Us post VN vets have you to thank for us getting a very positive welcome home in the following adventures after VN. You (as a group) taught the US that those serving do not make policy or choose where the military is sent, do not blame the vets, blame the politicians. Thank you for teaching the US the difference.

Jeff Craig
1 year ago
Reply to  RSB

Agreed! Coming back from Desert Shield/Storm and OIF/OEF I was welcomed back everywhere I went. The 60/70’s were a traumatic period in our history, while 9/11, like Pearl Harbor or the sinking of the Maine, were an attack on America (and the Maine as we now know is debatable). Still, despite the mistaken assumptions, unchecked brutality (Abu Ghraib), lack of focus (dropping the ‘Stan for Iraq) and only being prepared for ‘the last war’, Americans are overall proud of the service and sacrifice of all our Vets. I can only hope we keep leaders in office who understand the sacrifice of service members and their families, and not those who seek out fights to soothe their own egos or vendettas.

Ray Shepherd
1 year ago

Interesting, I don’t find this true with the Marine Corps. I am an old timer, Vietnam Combat Veteran and I have no problem with being with today’s Marines. I have been to many events put on by both the old timers and the younger generation of Marines. We all enjoy and relate to each other.

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Ray Shepherd

As a Marine I’ll add to that, there is a difference between Marines and other branches of the service. I was in from 4/11/62 to 11/10/69, I never thought about it like this but a lady here where we live in central FL said when she found I was a Marine. Marines are a different breed from the rest of the military, we have pride, we are not ex’s of anything. The experience of becoming a Marine last a lifetime, there are ex soldiers, ex sailers, and ex airmen, the only ex Marines are ones that were dishonorable discharged, the rest are still Marines through death. Not to put down the other services, but we are lifetime Marines. I still have memorabilia from 52 years ago, I will see someone wearing something with the Marine Corps emblem and say Semper Fi no matter what their age, and always get a Semper Fi in return. Semper Fi!

Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

Once a Marine, Always a Marine.

Bill semion
1 year ago

I guess, as a veteran, I would ask, why do i want to spend time in a Vets hall re-living not a very good time in my life, when I can be much more productive with my time not being there? 😉

PGR
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill semion

Best reply yet!

WEB
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill semion

And the Vets in the hall will be better off too. Win-Win!

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