Although the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan trigger diverse and often opposing opinions, stories about returning veterans and the issues they deal with tend to be fairly positive, says Ron Martz, president of Military Reporters and Editors, and recently retired military affairs reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"You are seeing human interest stories outside the Beltway from primarily young reporters who don't have that Vietnam-era stigma hanging over them," he says. "They're more sympathetic to the issues facing veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan [than reporters were in the past]."
Because many veterans' issues, including legislation currently in the US Senate to upgrade the GI Bill, originate in Washington, the subjects often have a political component.
Still, John Raughter, communications director at the American Legion's national headquarters in Indianapolis, says most reporters want a non-partisan voice in veterans' stories, so his group is often the first organization called for comment on breaking news impacting veterans.
"Our biggest challenge isn't getting our voice in these stories, it's getting the veterans' issues on the media radar so [they] can get the coverage [they] deserve, whether it's something going on at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] or the [Department of Veterans Affairs] budget," he adds.
The outlets that most consistently cover veterans' issues are typically the titles published by the veterans' groups themselves, says Philip Callaghan, managing editor at The American Legion magazine, a general interest magazine that goes to 2.5 million members.
"We try to focus on veterans' issues, but also on issues that are important to everyone as a citizen of the US," he says. "I'm currently writing our August cover story on the proposed changes to the GI Bill; but our July cover story was about our aging dam system."
With many mainstream outlets cutting back on staff, veterans' groups are pitching their story ideas to government affairs, health, and metro reporters, in addition to military beat writers, according to retired Col. Marvin Harris of the US Air Force and PR director for the Military Officers Association of America.
A key to securing coverage is to have experts and veterans ready for whatever issues hit the news cycle, Harris adds.
"We learned our lesson a few years back when we got a call one Friday afternoon from a TV news producer offering us a national segment if we could provide someone in a wheelchair," he says. "We missed that opportunity. So now we're ready whenever the media calls - we get back to them right away with someone on the phone and we make sure we're accurate."
Work with local veterans' groups to help reporters bring national issues, such as disability payments, education benefits, and support for returning troops, close to home
Veterans' groups need to stay out of politics if they want to remain trusted sources on issues impacting those leaving the military
There are a dwindling number of military veterans in newsrooms across the country, so PR pros might have to work hard to convey to reporters the sacrifices that members of the armed forces make, and why they should be treated well once they return to civilian life