Academy Award nominations for "American Sniper," about real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, point to a total turnaround in public attitude toward battle-hardened U.S. troops since the days when Vietnam returnees were spat on by anti-war protesters and portrayed as butchers in popular media, The Washington Times reports.
But combat veterans often face difficulties even when they're warmly welcomed home.
Veterans advocates say they hope the Clint Eastwood-directed movie — with its high profile and Oscar nominations in the major categories of Best Picture and Best Actor – will help raise public awareness of those challenges.
"One of the biggest problems is the American public, and people in general, don’t recognize the struggle that soldiers are going through when they come home," Rachael Murray, director of entertainment for the USO of Metropolitan New York, told the Times.
"They don’t recognize how hard it is to talk to their families, what an obstacle it is for them to even talk to their comrades about what is happening. It’s a very difficult situation," said Murray.
Murray said the movie's star, best actor nominee Bradley Cooper, has become an energetic ambassador, traveling far and wide to talk to troops and veterans at exclusive USO "American Sniper" screenings.
Chris Kyle's own commitment to helping others work through their Iraq and Afghanistan experiences arguably cost him his life. He and a friend were both gunned down in February 2013 at a shooting range in Texas by a troubled Iraq war veteran of the Marine Corps who they had invited along to the range.
It was a shocking and improbable end for Kyle, the sniper credited with the most recorded kills in U.S. military history.
But his story, retold by Hollywood with his bestselling memoir
as the source material, has become an opportunity for renewed appreciation of veterans.
The timing is welcome, veterans' advocates said, after a 2014 marred by scandalous and fatal delays in medical care at military hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Maybe that’s the beauty of the failures of the government," Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle's widow, told the Times, "is that the private sector comes up and brings their hearts to the table in a lot of ways."
She also credited Cooper with faithfully portraying her husband, saying that "he was able to absorb all of this complex emotion that a warrior goes through, that Chris went through," and presented it "beautifully" on screen.
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