Veterans in Society 2014: Humanizing the Discourse

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The 2014 Veterans in Society conference was held from April 27-28th at the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, VA. The conference theme for 2014 was Humanizing the Discourse, a title that speaks to a two-fold aim. We are seeking to foster increasingly sophisticated dialogue regarding veterans. This requires recognizing the individual humanity of people who can sometimes be turned into one-dimensional caricatures behind headlines, statistics, and stereotypes. In particular, this year we invited contributors to draw on the tools of the arts, humanities, and social sciences in addressing veterans’ issues and shaping policy. Theatre, film, and other narrative formats present rich possibilities for helping render and explicate the complexities of veterans’ experiences — not limited to those of U.S. veterans, nor exclusively those of post-2001 veterans — across historical and cultural contexts. In keeping with our consideration of the humanity of veterans and the variety of their circumstances, we also seek to broaden our discourse with questions such as, “Who ‘counts’ as a veteran?” “How have veterans themselves found — and made — meaning of their military and civilian experiences?” and “How are mixed civilian-military communities talking about veterans issues?” The materials in this collection include the 2014 ViS conference program and proceedings, as well as individual papers and presentations from conference participants.

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  • ‘Performing for the Camera’ ?: Oral History Interviews of Female Military Service Personnel
    Grohowski, Mariana (2014-04)
    This paper examines the discourse female military service personnel use to describe their military service. Using video-recorded oral history interviews available online from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, the author tests the claim of filmmaker Marcia Rock (Service: When Women Come Marching Home) that the video camera “makes the story important,” compelling interviewees to share more because of the camera (Rock). Female military service personnel’s contributions and accomplishments have historically been redacted or omitted from military and national histories, compelling these women to hide/neglect their military service (Ryan, 2009; Benedict, 2009). Comparing oral history interviews that were not video recorded, which the author collected, as well as those available online from the Betty Carter Women Veterans Historical Project; the author offers future research and deliverables on the affordances of various modalities for collecting military service personnel’s oral histories.
  • Standing Up To Be Counted: Female Military Personnel and Online Mentoring
    Hart, D. Alexis (2014-04)
    Women working in male-dominated fields such as science and the military often encounter challenges fitting into their workplace communities, feeling themselves to be cast as less intelligent and less powerful (physically and with regard to leadership). The problems connected to gendered stereotypes do not end once female military personnel leave the military service. As a result, female veterans often downplay their skills and accomplishments and do not identify themselves with the veteran moniker. Several online communities for military women have emerged that strategically use Web 2.0 technologies to enable female military personnel to mentor each other in relatively safe electronic spaces to support the professional and personal growth of participants and to articulate personally and publicly the reasons why women, too, “count” as veterans.
  • Resisting & Re-inscribing Gender Norms: See Me/ Hear Me
    Broyles, Kathryn A. (2014-04)
    Women veterans not infrequently report the forced iconic characterizations of “bitch,” “whore,” or “dike” forced upon them by their fellow service-members, superiors, and the larger culture both during and after their military service. As a result, they experience a kind of cognitive dissonance. This presentation challenges the connections made between identity, gender norms, and the wedding of nationalism and masculinity when they serve to reject servicewomen by challenging their identities as in/sufficiently feminine/female, or when they inscribe upon the female soldier a pseudo- masculinity, concurrently denying her masculine privilege. This presentation seeks to engage conversation around ways to normalize images of the female solider, recognize the value of the stories of all veterans, and explore – without essentializing –the tension necessary between gender and identity.
  • Understanding and Building Effective Narrative on Veteran Experiences to Compel Program and Policy Action
    Dunkenberger, Mary Beth; Lo, Suzanne (2014-04)
    Virginia has the third highest per capita population of veterans, and the seventh highest in total population. Many of these veterans are faced with wide-ranging and complex health issues, which vary greatly depending on their age, time of service and location of residence. Virginia’s geographic and socio-economic diversity provide for varied and unique characteristics among its general and veteran populations. Those conditions yield a rich research environment, but also a heightened need to translate and disseminate findings to varied populations and individuals. A growing body of veterans’ assessment and clinical research is aimed at improving health services for military service men and woman returning from deployment. Concurrently, military and veterans advocates are calling for improved connections between community health providers and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as, integrated care provision among physical, mental and behavioral health specialists.1 The Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance conducted the 2010 Veterans Needs Assessment which asked the broad questions of “what are the needs and experiences of Virginia veterans, particularly needs and experiences related to veterans’ health and wellbeing” and “how do the needs and experiences of veteran differ based on key characteristics of the veteran”. Subcategories of health and well-being questions included the following topics: physical health, with emphasis on traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, orthopedic conditions, chronic disease, access and utilization, mental and behavioral health, which included PTSD, depression, substance use, family relationships, access and utilization, education and employment measures and life status satisfaction. Characteristic categories for the assessment included stratification by region of residence, era served, branch of service, age, type of service and deployments. In order to obtain representative results
  • The Changing Face of War
    Short, Nancy S. (2014-04-28)
    Society has views of warfighters, who they are and the battles they fight. Recently a new group of warfighters have been brought into our consciousness; however, it is necessary to examine how we are influenced by the media, as well as our values and beliefs. Discussion will involve common issues females in the military face, recommendations for future research, and available resources.
  • How Do Military Veteran Students Write? Exploring the Effectiveness of Current Writing Pedagogy
    Singleton, Meredith (2014-04-28)
    Through Post-911 GI Bill benefits, military veterans are flooding college admissions offices and writing classes at rates not seen since the World War II era. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, over 1 million veterans attended colleges and universities between 2009 and 2013; and 53.6 percent of veteran students using benefits applied them toward completing undergraduate work at a college or vocational/technical school (“Annual Benefits Report,” 2011). Clearly, many writing instructors will likely encounter a military veteran in their classes in the near future. Unlike the majority of first-year and undergraduate writing students, these students bring with them deeply engrained professional training that starkly contrasts with current writing pedagogy. Contemporary writing curricula teach and engage traditional students in communal writing practices focused on self-exploration and personal meaning-making. However, for the returning military veteran, these strategies may prove problematic. Through training in highly structured environments, they learn to do as instructed, not ask questions, and successfully complete the tasks assigned, with little room for error or personal adaptation. In an incredible culture shock, and in direct contrast with their previous superiors, writing instructors encourage these students to determine strategies that work based on personal preferences, actively avoiding prescriptive writing instruction and shunning the idea of presenting writing as a successive, inflexible process. College writing instructors, therefore, need to ask whether or not current writing pedagogy meets the needs of military veteran students and employs their professional training. Furthermore, what can instructors do to better assist these students as they transition from military to academic training? Thus, this substantial shift in the writing student profile presents an opportunity to re-evaluate current teaching strategies to determine approaches that will more directly tap in to these students’ highly developed skills. This paper responds to Hart and Thompson’s call to action (2013) to writing programs and instructors to begin exploring their veteran populations. Seeking a better understanding of the military veteran student’s unique training, this paper contrasts current military training materials with practices and approaches in the writing classroom. This paper addresses the assumption that entry-level writing students succeed in an environment where they are free to explore flexible writing strategies and methods, an assumption that may leave veteran students at a distinct disadvantage. The results of this analysis call into question the effectiveness of current writing pedagogy for this particular audience, suggesting rather a composition pedagogy that returns to cognitivist theories of composing (Flower, 1989; Flower & Hayes, 1981) and recognizes that these students have learned to succeed in very prescriptive, rigid environments. This paper suggests that it may benefit these students to learn the academic writing process through their prior frame of reference, rather than through the less structured one of current pedagogy. Expanding on an initial case study of one military veteran college writer, the ultimate goal of this research is to explore alternative, effective pedagogies that better intersect with the military training these students possess.
  • Bridging a Gap Between Knowledge and Experience: Civilian Views of Military Service
    Hayek, Philip (2014-04)
    Assume that knowledge can never exceed experience. In the case of studying the military and veterans’ issues, then, how much can a civilian understand, or how much credibility might a civilian have to leverage when making claims about ideology, motives, or identity concerning veterans? Are the experiences of veterans insulated from the public in a way that deflects any possible judgment from outsiders, from civilians? Consider the value judgments concerning the military that reveal a certain binary opposition: I support the troops (read: thank god it’s not me) or I’m anti-military (read: I wouldn’t go if you paid me). Both positions have no hope of catching alive the idea of being a part of that military institution. Can anyone outside of the realm of experience observe, or “know,” and therefore form value judgments about veterans? In this paper, Enlightenment- and Progressive-era rhetoricians like Hugh Blair, Richard Whately, and Wayne Booth, among others, offer insights into how the attitude of the American public and the common sense we share plays a role in defining the tastefulness, or appropriateness, of discourse about veterans. A change in society’s common understanding of what is tasteful will not only limit how ideas are formed, but these boundaries will disqualify any ideas or discourse outside of what is accepted as tasteful. The articulation of our nation’s sentiment surrounding veterans is constricted not only by what is considered tasteful but also by a perceived and actual distance between civilians and military personnel. The burden of proof for arguments concerning the military and veterans rests on civilians who will never have access to the knowledge that experience places in the hands of veterans. Rhetorically, veterans share a common sense language that is removed from the general population, and therefore from popular opinion. Insights from rhetorical theory can be a productive starting point from which to study how veterans as a population resist any value judgments from civilians that fall outside the binary opposition of for or against.
  • Examining the Differences in Veterans and Non-Veterans at the Chronic Pain Management Unit
    Jiwani, Alisha; Hapidou, Eleni G. (2014-04)
    The CPMU consists of both veterans and non-veterans who exhibit a wide range of chronic pain problems. In this study, it is hypothesized that veterans and non-veterans will score better at discharge than at admission, based on expected trends. In addition, due to their combat exposure, it is predicted that veterans will score differently than non-veterans on a variety of pain-related measures. It is predicted that veterans will exhibit more anxiety and fear-related symptoms than non-veterans. Patient information was extracted from the CPMU database in order to obtain demographics, program evaluation scores, and MMPI-2 scores. Fifteen veterans were matched with fifteen non-veterans based on age, gender, time of admission, and pain duration. A two-way ANOVA with repeated measures on one factor was conducted on each of the measures at admission and discharge for veterans and non-veterans. Paired t-tests were used for MMPI-2 scores and discharge only variables to assess any differences between veterans and non-veterans. Intuitively, many of the significant results illustrated that upon discharge, most subjects performed better on measures that were encouraged by multidisciplinary treatment programs. Results also indicated that scores on the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS), and on both task persistence and seeking social support dimensions of the Chronic Pain Coping Inventory (CPCI) were different for veterans and non-veterans depending on when they completed the questionnaires. Veteran scores were consistent with our hypothesis across measures that detected significant group by session interactions. Further studies need to be conducted to gain a better understanding of the differences between veteran and non-veteran profiles.
  • Proceedings of the Second Conference on Veterans in Society: Humanizing the Discourse
    (2015)
    The second conference on Veterans in Society represented ongoing growth and continuity in our research program. Our first conference, “Changing the Discourse” (2013), marked the first academic conference solely focused on veteran-related research and brought together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences to start a conversation on the relationships between veterans and the broader society. Papers included work on the arts as therapeutic and expressive acts for veterans, U.S. citizens’ right to lie about military service, and discourse analysis of language affecting servicewomen. For this 2014 conference, our theme’s title, “Humanizing the Discourse,” speaks to a two-fold aim: We hoped to foster increasingly sophisticated dialogue regarding veterans, which required recognizing the individual humanity of people who can sometimes be turned into one-dimensional caricatures behind headlines, statistics, and stereotypes. To support this goal, we invited contributors to draw on the tools of the humanities, as well as the arts and social sciences, in addressing veterans’ issues and shaping policy. We hosted five panels of research projects from contemporary scholars—on topics including international veterans, veterans as intercultural educators, and the role of writing and film in expressing veterans’ experiences—and featured a series of relevant special events including live theatre, film screenings, and a featured panel on military-civilian dialogue. The proceedings that follow include all available print copies of papers and accompanying slides, along with the full original conference program. Due to the live nature of many events, as well as accompanying copyright issues, some written materials are not available.
  • Veterans as a Stabilising Factor in Politics: West Africa as a Case Study
    Oshigbo, Kehinde Olaoluwatomi (2014-04)
    This paper discusses civil-military relations in Africa with an emphasis on regional instabilities as they affect the economic, socio-cultural, and political settings of the people. It observes the involvement of war veterans in civil rule as becoming a norm and underscores the interface between the veterans and the professional politicians in government. This research is intended to bring to light the enormous influence veterans hold and have the potential to wield in the political landscape in Africa. The further work of this paper is to explore germane issues such as, who are the likely beneficiaries of veterans in politics? why must veterans embrace politics? and, in whose interest will the veterans’ involvement in politics be protected? Veterans, especially those who retire with high military ranks, have built knowledge of and relationships with politicians at every level of governance and also occupy high status position notably because of their military background and perceived affluence, materially and otherwise. Such circumstances have produced a president, senate president, executive governors, local government chairmen, and others in Nigeria. Despite the existence of clearly defined checks and balances, trust for the veterans continues to be elusive and shrouded in fear, distrust, annoyance, and hate. However, this author stands with those who believe that veterans as political leaders have brought stability and peace, and serve as a unification point between extremists, thereby fostering peace and unity and a rare form of democratic rule that is not only unique but evolving.
  • The Contributions of Veterans in Business and Economy: Africa as a Case Study
    Oshigbo, Taiwo Oluwaseyi (2014-04)
    This paper discusses the growing influence retired military men and women are now exacting in African society based on their business franchises, which cut across telecoms, agriculture, mining, shipping, oil and gas, broadcasting, small medium enterprise, and more. These are mass-oriented and beneficial investments not only to the society but to the economic growth of their respective nations, which will be advantageous to the collective development of the society and the continent at large. This paper shows a relationship between the period spent as service members and in business careers after retirement, which is a positive indicator and a palliative to stem the idea of young military officers nursing the nocturnal ambition of coup d'etat, since life after service years are no longer an armageddon. This paper takes a periscopic view of how these veterans’ impacts and successes in their new chosen careers have positively affected their immediate communities and beyond in the areas of youth employment and empowerment; capacity building; and re-focusing, re-engineering, and social development indicative of a transformation that underscores a paradigm shift in people’s perception of the men and women in khaki.
  • Veterans in Society Conference 2014: Humanizing the Discourse (Conference Program)
    Virginia Tech. Department of English. Center for the Study of Rhetoric in Society; Virginia Tech. Veterans Studies Group (2014-04)
    This program lists the daily sessions, presentations, and events that took place during the 2014 Veterans in Society Conference, which was held from April 27-28, 2014 at the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, VA. This program also includes speaker and presenter bios, descriptions of unrecorded conference events, and a letter from conference co-chair Jim Dubinsky, the director of Virginia Tech's Center for the Study of Rhetoric in Society. The 2014 Veterans in Society Conference: Humanizing the Discourse was presented by the Virginia Tech Veterans Studies Group and hosted by the Center for the Study of Rhetoric in Society, part of Virginia Tech's Department of English.
  • Closing Discussion "The Future of Veterans Studies"
    Committee Panel (2014-05-29)
    Our conference theme for 2014 is Humanizing the Discourse, a title that speaks to a two-fold aim. We hope to foster increasingly sophisticated dialogue regarding veterans. This requires recognizing the individual humanity of people who can sometimes be turned into one-dimensional caricatures behind headlines, statistics, and stereotypes. In particular, this year we invited contributors to draw on the tools of the arts, humanities, and social sciences in addressing veterans’ issues and shaping policy. Theatre, film, and other narrative formats present rich possibilities for helping render and explicate the complexities of veterans’ experiences — not limited to those of U.S. veterans, nor exclusively those of post-2001 veterans — across historical and cultural contexts. In keeping with our consideration of the humanity of veterans and the variety of their circumstances, we also seek to broaden our discourse with questions such as, “Who ‘counts’ as a veteran?” “How have veterans themselves found — and made — meaning of their military and civilian experiences?” and “How are mixed civilian-military communities talking about veterans issues?” To engage such questions, in addition to traditional sessions featuring up-to-date research from contemporary scholars, we are highlighting a series of featured events.
  • Support the Troops? A Community in Dialogue
    Montgomery, John; Salaita, Steven; Ott, Gil (2014-05-21)
    The vigorous national controversy surrounding Steven Salaita's article, "No, thanks: Stop saying 'support the troops' " in Salon.com (Aug 25, 2013: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/25/no_thanks_i_wont_support_the_troops/) raised questions about the connections Americans feel between military personnel and the policies they are called upon to carry out. Beneath the questions lie a disjunction in American society: a very small percentage of Americans have served in the military, and a very large majority have neither personal military experience nor even personal acquaintance with veterans. In this panel, the Rev. Gil Ott, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and Col John Montgomery, the commander of the Air Force ROTC detachment at Virginia Tech, engage Professor Salaita and the audience about how Americans ought to think about military personnel and veterans.