There are almost 18 million Veterans in the U.S. (roughly 7% of the U.S. adult population). We need to continuously make strides to understand the lived experiences and cultural context of U.S. Veterans to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and myths in media and marketing. Built with input from community partners, these U.S.-focused insights are a starting point to help you create marketing that positively and authentically represents people within the U.S. Veteran* community.
The insights below should help you understand some of the most important nuances that exist within this diverse group of people and to be more inclusive of those who have been historically under- or misrepresented in marketing. They are not exhaustive and should act as a starting point for your own research into U.S. Veteran experiences.
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- *While “The Associated Press Stylebook” does not capitalize “veteran,” we recognize and adhere to the guidance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Design System Word list, the Veterans Health Administration Graphic Style Guide, and community leaders that “Veteran” be capitalized.
Use the correct terminology
While the government definition of a Veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable,” cultural awareness of Veterans tends to overgeneralize, to include those still active, and representation in marketing and media often falls short of accurately depicting the nuances of Veteran life. It can be complex and challenging to use the correct terminology when talking about Veterans, but it’s important to be specific to prevent misgroupings.
Veterans are people who have served in any of the six branches of the U.S. Armed Forces: the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force. When referencing Veterans as a group there are technicalities and pitfalls to be aware of:
Want to learn more?
This military rank and structure resource from the University of Utah shares details about branch specifics and rank.
A note on uniforms
Use caution when showing or portraying active duty service members or Veterans in uniform. Experts recommend avoiding stock photos and videos, and instead using media from the services themselves (like this Marine Corps resource). Follow all protocols outlined by the Department of Defense (DoD) when including DoD visual information in campaigns, like insignia or other military markings on uniforms and other objects. Explore this Public Use Notice of Limitations for more information, and see examples of how this is executed in Grow with Google’s Sword & Plough film.
Include Veterans who are women
Women currently make up 10% of the Veteran community today, and Pew Research projects that the percentage of Veterans who are women will increase to 18% by 2045. As a growing subpopulation, it is necessary to understand the unique experiences of Veterans who are women in order to accurately represent them. The U.S. Armed Forces are still male-dominated and gender discrimination is pervasive; however, employing gender-inclusive language can help create less marginalized environments. Media and marketing can play a vital role in breaking down barriers and increasing inclusion by dismantling stereotypes.
Include intersectional Veterans
The diversity of Veterans is growing more than ever before, and the picture of the Veteran community as a white monolith is outdated. Reflecting wider demographic changes in the U.S., the share of Latino/Latinx Veterans is expected to grow from 7 to 13%, while the share of Black Veterans is expected to increase from 12 to 16%. As participating members of American society, underrepresented Veterans experience the same racial bias and discrimination as nonveterans, both implicit and explicit, and also experience more barriers to accessing Veteran benefit programs.
Although Asian Americans, Indigenous people, and Pacific Islanders make up a smaller percentage of the total Veteran population, a high number of people within the Indigenous and Pacific Islander communities have actively served. Indigenous people have the highest per-capita involvement of any U.S. population serving in the Armed Forces - at five times the national average - and have historically played critical roles in the military, like the American Indian Code Talkers during World War II. It’s important to not overlook their experience and service in the military.
There are at least 870,000 LGBTQ+ Veterans in the U.S. (about 4% of the Veteran population). Depending on when they served and which policies were in place at the time, LGBTQ+ Veterans (and LGBTQ+ military spouses) will have varied experiences, challenges, and triumphs. Consult experts and individuals from the communities to approach portrayals with authenticity and nuance when representing LGBTQ+ Veterans in marketing.
Portray Veterans as engaged members of the workforce
Avoid perpetuating harmful Veteran stereotypes, such as inaccurate portrayals of Veteran homelessness and unemployment. Always consider whether homelessness or unemployment is relevant to a narrative that includes or highlights Veterans. Instead, portraying Veterans as engaged members of a workforce can help undo harmful misconceptions. Do your research and speak to experts to create marketing that authentically represents reality without perpetuating stereotypes.
Avoid overstating combat and its impacts
Media and marketing tend to emphasize portrayals of combat Veterans even though there are more than 800 roles in the U.S. Armed Forces, ranging from cooks to cyber workers. As a result, Veterans are often stereotyped as “broken heroes” who return to society bearing physical or psychological injury. While Veterans do experience these impacts of service, the notion that every Veteran does is a misconception that harmfully reinforces a “damaged Veteran” image.
With 25% of Veterans experiencing a service-related disability, it is important to include their stories in media and marketing. But tread a fine line. Marketers should always scrutinize the use of combat injury in campaigns and avoid exaggerating physical or psychological injury.
Depict Veterans as contributing members of the community
The truest reflection of the Veteran experience should show them as engaged members of the community. 52% of Veterans say that the military prepared them very well or somewhat well for the transition to civilian life, and many are highly engaged civically. Veterans vote more and give to charity more than nonveterans.
Represent Veterans as multidimensional
The truest and most authentic representations of U.S. Veterans should be mindful of over-valorizing service in favor of recognizing that Veterans are skilled, multidimensional citizens who have served their country in a hugely diverse number of roles, and who now live and work among the nonveteran population in a similarly diverse number of contexts.
Partner with organizations and advocates who champion Veteran empowerment
There is a change in focus from perceiving the Veteran community through a lens of charity to seeing it through one of empowerment, evident in various nonprofit organizations, individual attitudes, and in how the majority of Veterans prefer to be represented. The Veteran empowerment movement includes organizations that look to empower Veterans to continue their service by leveraging their skills and experience. It helps Veterans transition from military to civilian life, while also generating visible impact in nonveteran communities. Do your research to partner with organizations and individuals who can speak to Veteran empowerment.