What Americans Think About Veterans—and Why It Matters

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein administers the oath of enlistment to a group of Air Force recruits during a Heritage to Horizons concert in honor of military and veteran service organizations at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., July 26, 2019, photo by Adrian Cadiz/U.S. Air Force

Photo by Adrian Cadiz/U.S. Air Force

Event Details


Thursday, January 18, 2024


4–5 p.m. ET
1–2 p.m. PT

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When the general public thinks about veterans, a variety of characteristics may come to mind—both positive and negative. How Americans perceive veterans could have implications not only for their support for policies that benefit veterans but also for their views on military service and the U.S. military as an institution. Results from a nationally representative RAND survey shed light on why policymakers, veteran-serving organizations, and the research community should care about how Americans view veterans and what that could mean for military recruitment and spending decisions.

Join the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute as experts discuss the role of public perceptions in policies to support veterans and promote national security.


Meredith Kleykamp

Meredith Kleykamp

Meredith Kleykamp is a senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation. Her research focuses on military personnel policy and the consequences of military service for service members, veterans, and their families. She has examined the importance of identity in military-to-civilian transitions, hiring discrimination against veterans and military spouses, pre-enlistment attitudes toward military diversity, and pathways to end gender segregation in U.S. Marine Corps recruit training. Kleykamp has served on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Readjustment Needs of Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families and on the Maryland Governor’s Challenge Team to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and Families. She has a Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University and is an associate professor at the University of Maryland.


Brigadier General (ret.) Michael Meese

Brigadier General (ret.) Michael Meese

Brigadier General (ret.) Michael Meese is the president of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), a nonprofit association that provides financial services to military personnel, veterans, and their families. AAFMAA offers life insurance, financial planning support, investment advice, mortgages, and other benefits that support veterans’ financial security and independence. He was previously a senior adviser to the Chief of Staff of the Army’s transition team and led the 2016–2017 presidential transition team for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Meese headed the Department of Social Sciences at West Point before retiring after a 32-year career in the U.S. Army. He has a Ph.D. from Princeton University and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Melissa A. Bryant

Melissa A. Bryant

Melissa A. Bryant is a senior executive with more than 20 years of expertise in building and implementing executive branch, nonprofit, advocacy, political, and military strategies. Appointed to the Biden-Harris administration in 2021, she culminated her tenure in August 2023 as senior adviser for strategic engagement to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. She has spent her career championing causes affecting women and minority service members, in particular. A former U.S. Army intelligence officer and third-generation combat veteran, Bryant is on the board of directors of VetsinTech, which named her Woman Veteran of the Year in 2023, and Minority Veterans of America. She is an alumna of Howard University School of Law and has an M.A. in policy management from Georgetown University.


Kayla M. Williams

Kayla M. Williams

Kayla M. Williams is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. Her focus areas include optimizing policies and programs to support veterans and military personnel. She was most recently Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where she directed a team of nearly 80 employees who communicated VA policies and initiatives through diverse channels. She has served on the Department of Labor Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment, Training, and Employer Outreach and the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, among others. Williams was an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army and is the author of two memoirs about her experiences during and after deploying to Iraq. She has an M.A. in international affairs from American University.