The Myth of Veterans and Crime

As we mark Veteran’s Day 2017 let’s do more than just thank a military member for their service. Let’s all do our part to erase some of the persistent myths about our returning veterans.

First, military training and exposure to combat does not create the wacko battle-scarred solider so often depicted by Hollywood, nor does it translate into criminal behavior. The idea that returning war veterans are prone to or programmed to commit violent crime is a fairy tale. It just isn’t so.

The results of several different studies plus Bureau of Justice statistics gathered over the last several decades clearly show no evidence that veterans are more likely to commit crimes than civilians. In fact, since the post-Vietnam War days there has been a steep drop in veterans held in state and federal jails and prisons.

This Government Entity Has Kept Track of Military Vets and Crime Stats Since the Late 1970’s

The government started keeping track of veterans-turned-inmates in 1978 following worry about alienated Vietnam vets. Back then military veterans made up about 24% of the general prison population. Today that number is down to 8%. And, of those imprisoned today, only about a third ever saw combat.

Experts in this field credit the decline, in part, to increased services for veterans as they settle back home and try to get on with their lives. And, most states now have separate veteran’s courts, often staffed with understanding former military personnel. For certain crimes veterans can be steered into specialized treatment instead of entering the penal system.

Myth number two:  many civilians believe military members regularly come home from combat zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and other far-flung locations suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only a small percentage of service members leave the military suffering from the debilitating aftereffects of trauma.

inFact: A Majority of Returning Vets Do Not Suffer From PTSDNonetheless, the PTSD factor is a frequent part of today’s media milieu. On television dramas and in movies PTSD and troubled veterans are a regular offering. And, after the rare real life event of a veteran being involved in a major crime or mass shooting TV news programs invariably jump at the assumed PTSD connection.

Example: following the recent massacre at a Texas church, resulting in more than two dozen murdered and another 20 wounded, early news reports played up the gunman’s military connection. The truth is that Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, had turned sullen, unstable and menacing long ago according to those who knew him.  In 2012, he pleaded guilty to serious physical violence against his wife and infant stepson. He was put into a mental facility but escaped and began threatening his superior officers. His unstable actions led to a yearlong military confinement and, ultimately, that bad conduct discharge from the Air Force in 2014.

As far as I can determine Kelley was never in combat, having served his time as a clerk at Hollman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, New Mexico and he was never diagnosed with PTSD. Perhaps the military could do a better job of pre-screening those they accept but that’s a topic for a separate column.

Veteran Bill Rausch

Army Vet Rausch -Photo courtesy Got Your 6

“We know most Americans view veterans in one of two ways. Either as heroic or as broken,” says Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, a national veteran’s organization.

“We know for a fact … most of us are neither heroic nor broken. We are just like everyone else.”

Rausch is a West Point graduate and former Army Major whose service spanned 10 years, including stints in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Today, among other pro-veteran missions, he is working with the entertainment industry to try to change the stereotypical portrayal of veterans in films and on TV. Vets are not the damaged characters so often depicted, Rausch says. Instead, they should be seen as the trained leaders and team builders the military molded them to be, true assets to the communities in which they settle.

With hundreds of thousands of veterans leaving the military every year Got Your 6 believes working with Hollywood to get the veteran’s story right is an important first step toward  getting localities to realize the assets coming their way.

“Think about the declining community,” in this country Rausch says. “Fewer people are voting, fewer people are volunteering, fewer people are helping their neighbors. So, there is an opportunity to tap into these veterans (who) will strengthen your community at the end of the day.”

If you remember only one point from this column make it this one:  Statistics show that military veterans are less likely to be involved in crime than civilians.  They are, for the most part, simply not the brooding, explosive, temperamental characters major movie stars like to portray.

Chances are extremely high that the man or woman who wore a uniform and served this country – on your behalf – did so honorably and now lives their life lawfully. I think it’s our duty to support them in every way possible. Not just on Veteran’s Day but every day



  1. Diane Dimond on November 13, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Facebook Friend Don Hornbrook writes:

    Thanks for your excellent Op-Ed piece on November 11. Those who were ‘neither heroic nor broken’ thank you for telling it the way you told it. Put this article up there with “Who Guards the Guardians”. Keep it up, good lady!


    Don Hornbrook Fighting Ignorance Since 1964 (It’s taking longer than I thought)

  2. Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Facebook Friend Richie Hydell writes:

    My mom and dad are veterans. When there is a war and you join to fight for my freedom you are a Hero.

  3. Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Facebook Friend Joya Colucci Lord writes:

    “We know for a fact … most of us are neither heroic nor broken. We are just like everyone else.”

    Thank you, from this veteran, with love.

  4. Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Noozhawk Reader Henry Wilson writes:

    This columnist has no idea what’s she’s writing about:
    “A government study in the 1980s initially found that for “Vietnam theater veterans” 15% of men had PTSD at the time of the study and 30% of men had PTSD at some point in their life. But a 2003 re-analysis found that “contrary to the initial analysis of the NVVRS data, a large majority of Vietnam Veterans struggled with chronic PTSD symptoms, with four out of five reporting recent symptoms when interviewed 20-25 years after Vietnam.”
    Also: “The list of other mass killers with military backgrounds is impressively long: George Jo Hennard, who killed 22 in Killeen, Texas, in 1991 had served in the navy; Michael McDermott, who shot seven people in Wakefield, Massachusetts, in 2000, also served in the Navy; Robert Flores was a veteran of the Persian Gulf war who shot his three nursing professors in Tucson, Arizona, in 2002; in 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, killed 13 when he went on a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas; Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who killed six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, had served six years in the U.S. Army, where he became a psychological operations specialist; in 2012, Radcliffe Haughton, an ex-marine, killed three women, including his wife, at a spa in Wisconsin; in 2013, Aaron Alexis, another Navy veteran, killed twelve at the Washington Navy Yard; in 2014, Ivan Lopez-Lopez, an Iraq War veteran, killed three at Fort Hood in Texas; and, of course, Timothy McVeigh, whose truck bomb killed 168 in Oklahoma City in 1995, was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.”

  5. Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Diane Dimond replies to Henry Wilson:

    Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Noozhawk.

    I believe there is a big difference in what the findings from the study you cited — from the 1980’s — compared to the much more recent studies I cited. the big difference? The horrible situation surrounding the VIetnam War and the reception those vets got when they came home. Remember the phrase, “Baby Killers!”? And of the former veterans you mention who became mass killers? I’m sorry to say that list is a drop in the bucket of mass killers this nation has endured over the last 30 decades. As I write this there have been 1,552 mass shootings just since the Sandy Hook tragedy in Dec. 2012 (check here for the latest update:

    1,552 mass shooters – and only a tiny percentage were military veterans.

    I’m thinking my more recent stats trump yours, Mr. Wilson.

  6. Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Noozhawk Reader Monterey writes:

    Vets make the best employees, from what I’ve seen.

    • Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:51 pm

      Noozhawk reader MaxWebXperienZ replies to Monterey Jack:

      I had a two-term Vietnam guy try to kill me with a garrote on the job once… I got one finger under the wire and wrestled it off. He then proceeded to tell me that next time he would do like the Viet Cong did: crush up some glass in a bag with a hammer and super glue it to the wire so it would cut my head off….

      • Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:54 pm

        Monterey Jack replies to MaxWebXperienZ;

        There are plenty of non-vets acting out, among workplace exploders. What are the stats?

        • Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 1:55 pm

          Noozhawk Reader J. Jones replies to MaxWebXperienZ:

          Seriously? That’s disturbing. I find that Mormons make the best employees. Just my personal experience.

  7. Diane Dimond on November 14, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Reader T.A. Coyle writes:

    Dear Diane,

    I am a retired Police Inspector from a busy east cost state, and I appreciate your column mentioned above. As a point of interest, I believe you will find that the majority of Police Officers are veterans.

    With regard to Texas and Devon Kelley, his actions most probably would not have occurred:

    1. Had the U.S. Air Force reported his mental condition to the proper federal authorities.
    2. If the ATF had been doing their job of inspecting the sales records of ALL gun dealers in the country.

    Medical and Mental records on ALL patients should be released to the proper federal authorities so that any licensed F.F.A. dealer would have to know that the prospective buyer can not purchase a firearm. (This would be similar to the No Fly List.) Details of the mental condition need not be released, as all pertinent confidentiality laws would be safely maintained.


    Insp. T. A. Coyle, (Ret.)

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