On Veterans Day, many programs and organizations reach out to veterans to serve their unique needs. While I am grateful for the generosity of so many organizations, I notice a disturbing trend. The more we define “veteran needs” as related to VA benefits, PTSD, and suicide, the more we place all veterans into a box that is labeled “broken.”
While PTSD and TBIs are a serious concern in the veteran community, they do not affect all service members. Painting all veterans with the same brush does a huge disservice to service members.
This Veterans Day, perhaps the best thing we can do is recognize the diversity of our living veterans. Not only are American veterans male and female, from all faiths, ethnicities, and political backgrounds, but they are diverse in other ways too. They could be active duty, former military, or retired. All veterans deserve our thanks on Veterans Day.
Here are 10 veterans you might meet:
- The old guy with the baseball cap at the VFW. We have all seen this image of a veteran from Vietnam or World War II. Perhaps you have met some in real life and listened to their stories. For these veterans, the events in the history books are part of their life. We owe them respect because we have so much to learn from them.
- The millennial who recently finished boot camp. Our military is a completely volunteer force. Every year, thousands of young people join the ranks. The newest service member may be 18, a recent high school graduate. He or she may have joined for patriotic reasons. . . or perhaps they just wanted help covering the cost of college. No matter their motivation, if they earned the uniform, they are a veteran.
- The one who served 30 years. While one can retire from the military with full benefits after 20 years of service, some stay much longer. Their children spend their entire lives moving from one place to the next. These veterans were experienced before the Global War on Terror began.
- The one who served four years, then got out. When someone enlists in the military or is commissioned as an officer, their initial contract is four to eight years. Many veterans leave after this initial contract and transition into other careers. It doesn’t matter why they choose to leave the military. What matters is that they served and are a veteran.
- The bearded operator. There are some salty veterans who can’t stop talking about the military, even after they get out. They start companies with military titles or create entertainment designed for a military audience. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these gung-ho service members are definitely veterans.
- The one who doesn’t want to talk about the military. Other veterans hardly mention their years of service. They don’t wear patriotic t-shirts or cover their Facebook page with military images, and they may not even own a gun. But once upon a time they served, so they will forever be a veteran.
- The one with multiple combat deployments. In the last generation, many veterans deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan again and again. Some volunteered for extra deployments, even when they knew what they were getting into. They may have been wounded or watched friends die in combat. These heroes are veterans.
- The one who never saw action. For every service member on the front lines, there are at least ten service members behind them in support positions. Whether it is a cook who hardly saw the outside of a ship or a computer specialist who always worked at a stateside communication center, every single support position is still a veteran.
- The one with PTSD. Yes, there are many veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI, or depression. It doesn’t seem to matter how much blood and action they saw. The weight of war is a huge burden to carry. Far too often, these veterans fail to get adequate support and succumb to suicide. These veterans need us.
- The one with a Purple Heart. This prestigious medal is a badge of honor and also a symbol of pain. It means the veteran wearing it suffered physical injury while doing their duty. It also represents the suffering and death of close friends, since a Purple Heart is rarely earned alone. Any veteran decorated with this medal deserves our gratitude.
You probably know some of these veterans. Maybe you are married to one or have a child who joined the military. No matter how many years they served or how they treat their military experience, please support them and honor them this Veterans Day.
By Lizann Lightfoot