(CNSNews.com) - Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he's spent a lot of time thinking about how the American people will view the newest generation of warriors when they come home.
"There's plenty to worry about," Dempsey told CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley."
"But it's that this generation of veterans may be seen as somehow victims, you know, because there is a great many things that have manifested themselves -- post-traumatic stress syndrome, rising rates of suicide, rising divorce rates, all of which we have to address. Sexual assault. All of which we have to address.
Dempsey said some of the problems stem from the trauma of fighting, but others reflect the times we live in: "We just find ourselves in one of those cycles of history when we've become a little bit less disciplined, I think, than we need to be. So I don't want to have this generation's young men and women, the warriors, seen as victims somehow.
"This conflict has been a source of strength as well for many, many veterans. And I would like the American people to give veterans the opportunity, not as a handout, but rather to recognize what they might bring to the workplace, what they might bring to their communities. So I want it to be a positive image. But there's moments when it feels as though it's slipping to a negative image."
Dempsey said returning veterans "don't need a handout, they need a handshake" -- a job, in other words, and the opportunity to show what they have to offer.
In a similar vein, Dempsey -- in a July 3 op-ed in the Washington Post -- said the relationship between American society and the military has been affected by the last decade of war.
"We can’t allow a sense of separation to grow between us," Dempsey wrote.
"Together, we need to discuss who we are and what our wars mean to us. In the past, this discussion reflected the character of the war. World War II produced the Greatest Generation. The Korean War was largely forgotten and, for too long, so were its veterans. After Vietnam, our nation struggled to understand its veterans. In the Persian Gulf War, we witnessed a fully supportive home front. Now is the defining moment in our relationship with the 9/11 veterans.
"As a nation, we’ve learned to separate the warrior from the war. But we still have much to learn about how to connect the warrior to the citizen. All of us in uniform volunteered to serve, but that doesn’t make us all heroes. Many of us have seen the horrors of war, but that doesn’t make us all victims. Today’s warriors and their stories are more diverse than these simple characterizations suggest."
Dempsey said citizens must listen to veterans, to hear their stories of "pride and courage, anger and pain, laughter and joy."
But he said veterans must recognize that civilians "might not know what to say or ask. We also have a duty to listen. Our fellow citizens may have different perspectives that we need to hear and understand."