You know the trope: the veteran comes home from “the war.” He is distant, has vivid flashbacks that send him careening to the floor, is always on high alert and can’t seem to turn it off; he digs foxholes in his backyard and drinks way too much.

Countless movies and television shows have portrayed veterans in this light: the broken veteran returning from war. It doesn’t matter what their job was or what war they fought in — they come home and they’re all the same “hollow shells” of what they used to be. Actors really have to practice their thousand yard stare for this one.

It’s certainly not exclusive to Hollywood. In my experience, several college students expected this from me when it came up that I was in the military and I was deployed. It wasn’t something I particularly brought up often, but I didn’t hide it in shame either. Those college kids got a pass in my book, as I don’t expect them to know one way or the other in regards to such things. Still, the idea is out there.

This has even extended to healthcare professionals — one such professional assumed my friend had PTSD simply because he was Airborne and because he was deployed. The fact that he was a Ranger and that the word “Airborne” was what stuck out in her mind already meant she had a fundamental misunderstanding of how these things work, let alone the fact that you could be in an airborne unit, or even a Ranger, deploy, and never seen combat. It’s happened plenty of times. It’s an automatic assumption that: “you went to war, you’re totally f***ed up.”

Why is this mentality dangerous?

Because war is not some simple, hazy disease that you just catch when you’re overseas. I’ve known guys (who didn’t see combat) come out of the military and are constantly told they have problems and probably will suffer from severe PTSD because they were deployed. ETSing and transitioning into civilian life has a whole slew of problems of its own, combat or not, and telling them they have these other problems can cause added confusion — especially when they start to believe you.

Victims of severe combat trauma need to admit that they are having problems when those problems arise. But it isn’t some blanket case where every military veteran is going to come out with a thousand yard stare and flashbacks that make them unable to function in today’s world.

“PTSD” is not a catch-all word for “problems arising from being in the military.”