An American Homefront Special: 'After the Uniform'

What does it mean to be a veteran in the 21st century?  For the more than two million former service members who've returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, it can be challenging to transition back into civilian life.

In this special report, the American Homefront Project examines some of the issues facing America's newest veterans.

While the "Millennial" generation of veterans is the largest since the Vietnam War, today's younger vets came of age in a different era, fought a different kind of warfare, and came home to a country that's evolved from the 1960s and 1970s.

"We have different technologies that are available to us now," said Nick Cervantes, who served in the Air Force from 2008 - 2014.

"YouTube and social media have allowed people to get a glimpse of the battlefield," Cervantes said. "Everybody sees the war that we're in, so we're almost forced to talk about it."

Cervantes -- who serves alongside older veterans at the American Legion Post in Chapel Hill, N.C. -- is aware that today's veterans generally received a warmer welcome home than their counterparts who served in Vietnam. Service members who returned from Vietnam four decades ago often were met with indifference or hostility by their war-weary nation.

Still, while many of today's veterans often encounter civilians who thank them for their service, those expressions of gratitude do little to ease the transition into civilian life.

"The adjustment period is tough," said Adrianna Moore, who served in the Navy until 2007.  "We have a different culture, we have different values, we have different ideas about morality."

"There's definitely stigmas for veterans, especially as we try to reenter the communities for employment or for school," she said.

Among the issues facing America's newest veterans:

  • The unemployment rate for veterans who served since 2001 is higher than the rate for non-veterans. It rose as high as 12.1% in 2011 before falling to 5.8% in 2015.
  • More than 47,000 veterans were homeless for at least part of 2015.  While Vietnam vets make up the majority of that number, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that homeless veterans are increasingly younger, female, and heads of households.
  • Stigmas and stereotypes about mental health, post traumatic stress, and suicide continue to affect the veteran community, impacting their ability to transition into civilian life.

"After the Uniform" examines those and other issues facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Drawing on the reporting of American Homefront journalists over the past year, the program profiles veterans who are trying to find housing and jobs, explores the "generation gap" between younger and older veterans, and profiles some initiatives around the country that are trying to address the issues.

The American Homefront Project is a collaboration of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, KUOW-Seattle, and KPCC-Southern California Public Radio.