Military veterans receive additional social security

German defense policy

Michael Daxner

About the author

Prof. Dr. Dr. hc Michael Daxner is a social scientist and conflict researcher. He is currently a sub-project leader in the Collaborative Research Center "Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood" at the Free University of Berlin. Before that, Daxner was President and Professor of Sociology at the University of Oldenburg. He has advised the Austrian federal government and international organizations several times. Daxner researches and publishes mainly on interventions and peace missions.

The Bundeswehr operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans have resulted in many returnees. However, veterans have not yet had a permanent place in our society. Who is considered a veteran is still controversial in Germany.

On December 22, 2012, Bundeswehr soldiers get into a C160 Transall transport plane at Camp Marmal in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, in order to fly back to Germany. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

They do not yet have a permanent place in our society: if we Veterans say, many still think of the returnees from World War II. Or they quickly switch to the present and recognize the Bundeswehr returnees from Kosovo and above all from Afghanistan. Some oppose the term veteran because it has an unpleasant military aura and want to replace it with "returnee"; others have im Association of German Veterans or at the Combat Veterans organized and argue about who can and is allowed to be a real veteran. In the following, both terms are used synonymously.

120,000 veterans - and their number is growing

Traditionally one understands by veterans returnees from the war. They break into the social fabric of the post-war period, just as they did after the First World War. They claim special social benefits because they have done something for the fatherland, they demand thanks and respect. In some countries veterans enjoy permanent social respect, their status almost becomes a name affix, as in the USA.

In Germany there is still no official definition of who is a veteran and what rights and obligations should be associated with it. In 2013, the then Federal Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière provided an initial description: A veteran is "someone who has honorably retired from active service in the Bundeswehr and as a member of the Bundeswehr abroad on at least one mission or special assignment in the context of humanitarian, peacekeeping or took part in peace-making activities. " According to this definition, there are now more than 120,000 veterans in Germany. And their number will grow because new mandates for foreign assignments have already been decided by the Bundestag.

The debate has stalled since de Maizière's advance - even if the Federal Ministry of Defense is working on a new veteran concept. Many questions are open: Can active soldiers with operational experience also be veterans? Do you have to have had "contact with the enemy" to qualify as a veteran? And can veteran status also be granted to those who simply served as soldiers in the Bundeswehr and were honorably discharged?

No country finds it more difficult than Germany to perceive and "classify" returnees as a manifestation of the new German role in global security policy. This is by no means a task that belongs to the military alone, because this is also about relatives, survivors, questions of everyday life and social security, and above all about recognition and the position of veterans in the political and social power structure of our republic.

So what is it about when we say that veterans are not yet firmly established in our society?

Veteran research: what we (need to) know

Science has only systematically dealt with veterans again since the Bundeswehr has been on missions abroad. Above all Afghanistan, but also the operations in the Balkans in the 1990s, have produced many returnees who are increasingly noticeable: They want special care, expect and demand their reintegration into the Bundeswehr or into civil society outside of the Military. Their nostalgia after the mission and their disturbed private relationships are equally noticeable and are often discussed in the media. Films, TV series and a multitude of books not only depict the position of the returnee, but also explain the war to the people from which they come.

Research in this area is difficult because the Bundeswehr is very reluctant to release important structural data and because every research discipline and every political field registers its own interest and access procedures for statistics, definitions and interpretations of this data. However, some assumptions can be helpful in combining everyday experience with returnees and scientific findings: First of all - no one is born a veteran. But once a veteran, he will remain so for a lifetime. Being a soldier, on the other hand, is only one phase of life - in sociology one speaks of a social status passage. Returnees remain veterans even after their active military careers, even if they return to other and additional positions in civilian life.

The way veterans are perceived by society differs significantly in some cases: the active fighter and the wounded can be perceived very differently than the veteran who has returned, plagued by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), uprooted or suppressed his experiences: the one as alleged "hero" who risked his life for the fatherland, the other possibly as a "victim" who represents a burden for his social environment. That also depends on the social and political backing foreign deployments and the military profession enjoy. However, the appreciation of the Bundeswehr among the population does not necessarily mean that veterans are respected and treated in public and in everyday life.

Overseas missions are not only a physical, but also a psychological burden: On August 20, 2011, soldiers of the German Armed Forces rested after a strenuous night in the district of Charrah Darreh near Kunduz in Afghanistan. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

(About) life after the mission

What we know about veterans does not always reach the public and the media in an unbiased and straightforward manner. For all veterans, the fact that deployment abroad, in the context of military interventions or humanitarian missions, has an impact on their future lives. It is often the case that combat experience gives life after a mission a decisive turn, not always in the same direction: many returnees lose their social support, their ability to bond to family and the environment, and their reflected identity; others in turn mature and gain a new, more self-confident personality without becoming militarists or combatants. There are many factors here that need to be carefully researched.

Comradeship and fear of being recognized by others as well as fear of death in extreme situations are essential components that influence future life after the deployment. Here science has set out to explore more precisely, which is not easy because many returnees, their families and superiors, but above all many comrades block off when it comes to the deeper layers of operational experience. We also know that with many veterans the fact that they are survived is important for their self-perception: they subconsciously compete with the dead, now unassailable comrades, or with the "heroes" of the missions.

No single social group

It is precisely at this point that, in addition to science, political education has to come into play: What do the public and the media, but also family members, friends and colleagues, comrades and fellow returnees, need to know about the veterans? From a social group that is part of this society, and yet somehow stands outside, sometimes wants to stand. Different attitudes and interests mix, which do not allow a single social group to become visible.

In general, two attitudes can be distinguished among veterans: One sets on Interpretative sovereignty, i.e. she explains to her environment how war (= deployment, combat experience) really is and was, and that they, the returnees, are called to evaluate, criticize and often generalize politically or morally. The other attitude closes itself off from the public and means that only those who have had the experience themselves can understand and appreciate the story of the war. Both types of attitudes are also included in interest politics: many returnees want special care and support with reintegration into society, from which they often feel alienated after a short time, even if the assignment only lasted six months.

A special group are those nostalgic for the mission, who miss the camaraderie and the danger, or both, and who want to return to the mission ("to the front"?) As often as possible, often also for private security services and no longer "for Germany Security / Freedom ", as the operations were often justified. A small group expressly argued politically critical after the mission. There are all variations, from newly awakened pacifism to the demand for more military strength and readiness for action.

Of course, this does not go unnoticed by the media and politics. Now it is difficult for the conscious post-war democrats to dismiss the new forms of war and combat memory from tradition; For many, however, the veterans are a welcome opportunity to redefine the democratic Bundeswehr and the German combat mission, in a word, to declare the "citizen in uniform" to be out of date.

A society must learn to deal with its veterans

So we know a lot about veterans. It remains difficult to get at the mental state and the "body" of the veterans. Some studies (see Bibliography) describe how return to family and site is perceived. The homecoming literature, but also journalistic individual case research, give a more negative picture here than the summarizing studies. The body studies are often processed "literarily". But this body naturally plays a major role: it is risked, injured, and abused in battle; it is tattooed, hidden, illustrated and, after returning from the mission, it plays an important part in integrating into family and society. This also makes it understandable why so far only the veteran, i.e. the male subject, has been mentioned. It will change, more and more veterans are returning from the field and will shape the image of this new social group. Then the masculine speech of the veterans will have to change, especially if the Bundeswehr has to recruit more soldiers in order to be able to survive missions abroad.

Taboo topics such as sexuality during and after a mission, loyalty and homesickness, partner relationships and substitute actions that are based on camaraderie are often only symptoms for a society that has not learned how to deal with its returnees. This also applies to returnees who come back to Germany for civil reasons. If they are not integrated openly and sustainably, both groups develop conspicuous behaviors that harbor the risk of conflict in society. It's not just about behavior, but also about values, norms and virtues.


Daxner, Michael (2013). Homeland Discourse - The German Case. International Relations Online Working Papers. Available at:

Daxner, Michael (2014a). Fallen and Veterans - The Return. In: Daxner, Michael (ed.). Germany in Afghanistan (pp. 249-259). Oldenburg: BIS-Verlag.

Daxner, Michael (2014b). Veterans. Science and Peace, 2014 (4), 24-26.

Daxner, Michael & Neumann, Hannah (2012). Home discourse. How the foreign missions of the Bundeswehr are changing Germany. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Hanisch, Anja (2013). Global operational experience as a resource. Center for International Peace Operations. Available at: /ZIF_In_Mission_Globale_Einsatzerlebnis.pdf

Kollmann, Anja (2015). The reintegration of expatriates. Empirical study on the return experience of expatriates. Hamburg: Diplomica.

Mann, Robert Clifford (2014). German Warriors. In: Daxner, Michael (ed.). Germany in Afghanistan. Oldenburg: BIS-Verlag.

Minssen, Heiner (2009). Attachment and Delimitation: A Sociology of International Managers. Mering: Hampp.

Moosmüller, Alois (2007). Living worlds of 'expatriates'. In: Straub, Jürgen, Weidemann, Arne & Weidemann, Doris (eds.). Handbook for Intercultural Communication and Intercultural Competence. Basic concepts - theories - fields of application (pp. 480-488). Stuttgart / Weimar: J.B. Slaughterer.

Näser-Lather, Marion (2011). Bundeswehr families, Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Schugk, Michael (2014). Intercultural communication in business. Basics and intercultural competence for marketing and sales (2nd ed.). Munich: Franz Vahlen.

Seiffert, Langer, Pietsch (2012). The deployment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan. Wiesbaden: VS publishing house for social sciences.

Seiffert and Hess (2014). Afghanistan returnees. Potsdam: ZMS.