I was sitting in a job interview and my interviewer asked me: “What more could we be doing for our veterans?” with a genuine look of concern and respect on her face. Those who know me personally know my stance on my veteran status; it’s a private and personal experience for everyone. My favorite response is “It’s not Saving Private Ryan, it’s Pizza Hut and Wi-fi”. No two experiences are the same and mine is no different, but to ask the direct question like that I was forced to really sit back and think about it. The only answer I could come up with was: “What’s left?”
We live in an age of respect and concern for our veterans unprecedented by any other time or place in history. Gone are the days of “baby-killers” and “grunts”. A lot of us have seen some horrible stuff, and a lot of us bellyache over working long hours in an office; it’s all a very personal experience, but we all enjoy the benefits: access to higher education, home loans, mental health counseling, tax breaks, and preferential hiring. It’s not as simple as throwing money around or saluting at a baseball game. We’re people and just like every adult, regardless whether they are a veteran or not, we will never overcome our experiences, or have a good life until we take responsibility for ourselves.
From my point of view, it’s a self-esteem issue. Soldiers are taught a very unique set of skills through shame and scare-tactics. A lot of veterans are treated like second-class citizens for the sake of a larger goal, then return to society greeted with confusion, entitlements, and blind respect; it’s confusing. I can only speak for my experience but there are a lot of us who want no attention whatsoever, we simply want to move on with our lives and deal with our experiences privately. Self-esteem is a systemic problem in the world nowadays and ignoring it makes it worse, but there’s a fine line between coddling and being supportive. It’s OK to have conflicting experiences about authority, your place in society, what it means to be an adult, etc… it’s not OK to sit on your ass and complain about it. There’s something to be said for the old adage “go out and get a job”.
So when you see a veteran and want to say “Thank you for your service”, that’s cool, and thank you for your support. A better question thought though, would be: “What have you done today to help yourself?” Because with all of the entitlements afforded to us, the only thing standing in the way of our success is ourselves.