Destigmatizing Experiences of Combat Veterans Engaged in Civilian Disaster Relief: Implications for Community Transition
Combat veterans possess some attributes of differentness that may cause others in society to create stigmatized perceptions of them and devalue their skills. Direct interaction/contact allows targeted individuals—in this case, combat veterans—to demonstrate their value by dispelling negative attitudes or beliefs others may have of them. A previous study reported that the disaster relief setting facilitates contact among combat veterans and non-military civilians. This study applied Modified Labeling Theory (MLT) to assess if the stigma and labeling experience among combat veterans volunteering in disaster settings provides a nuanced understanding. Semi-structured interviews were used to assess perceptions of male Team Rubicon (TR) members (n=9) who provide disaster relief in civilian settings. All participants served in combat. Data were thematically analyzed. Findings suggest 1) combat veterans were not stigmatized by their label; and 2) personal contact with civilians impacted by disaster helped TR members a) to demonstrate their value, and b) feel more optimistic about connecting with civilians in other contexts. Our findings suggest that veterans working with peer combat veterans and civilians in disaster settings provided a destigmatizing condition whereby combat veterans felt less stigmatized by others and more interpersonally connected with civilians. It is recommended that since the majority of services for veterans come from civilian community providers, it is imperative that providers be sensitive to military culture and experiences of those serving in combat to avoid further stigmatization of veterans.
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