Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2014.
I’m always a little conflicted on Veterans Day.
I’m proud of my time in the military and it is certainly a part of who I am, but that’s all it is, a part. I think this is probably still the way the majority of vets feel, but lately, there seem to be more and more people, both within the veteran community and American society as a whole, that want to isolate and extract the “veteran” portion of the identity and treat that as if it is the only aspect that matters.
This is concerning because it simultaneously leads down two paths: The Hero and The Victim.
The Hero is what we become when the military is treated like it is somehow above the rest of society, instead of a part of it. This is what happens when healthy respect and acknowledgement goes haywire. This happens when a soldier is told that he deserves to board airplanes ahead of an expectant mother with three kids. The Hero mentality is what causes a veteran to proudly request a military discount when she goes out to dinner, “because of my sacrifice,” instead of humbly accepting it when it is offered.
The Victim, in contrast, is what veterans become when society looks at us as automatically broken by our experiences. Any time a veteran struggles with PTSD and society quietly applies that diagnosis to every other veteran, we become The Victim. When civilians make misinformed comments about how horrible the pay and benefits are in the military and we don’t correct them, we are also playing the role of The Victim. This is just as damaging of a label because it sets us apart from society as somehow flawed and “used up” by our military service.
The most concerning part about this is that we seem to actually be taking both paths. We heap shallow praise on military members and give out free appetizers on Veterans Day, but we don’t demand resolution for those issues that sincerely impact veterans most in need, while rejecting that those damaged labels apply to the majority of us. This appears to be leading to an entitlement mentality within the military while simultaneously allowing society to ignoring the most critical issues. For example, we are still combating issues such as veteran homelessness, unemployment, and suicide. The Department of Veterans Affairs is still struggling with a massive backlog, byzantine bureaucracy, and a failure to modernize. This is really where society’s focus should be.
This is also where we veterans have an obligation. Collectively, we should reject both The Hero and The Victim. Let us be clear about which issues are important and which are not. A free Blooming Onion, while certainly appreciated, is not going to impact the arc of my life in any meaningful way. However, the timely processing of a disability claim could literally change the course of an injured veteran’s life. One more open phone at a suicide hotline could, literally, be a matter of life and death for a depressed vet.
I ask all my fellow vets to assure that we keep the focus on what matters. Don’t buy into either The Hero or The Victim mentality.
Skylar Gerrond is a former USAF Security Forces captain who was stationed in Wyoming, Germany, and Texas along with deployments to Iraq in 2003 and 2006/7. During his 7 years of active duty, he worked nuclear and physical security, law enforcement, and technology development/rapid fielding. Since separating from the Air Force in 2007 he has worked test and evaluation and program management for the Navy supporting a variety of DoD and U.S. government entities. His opinions are his own and do not represent those of any other organization.
Image: Chadler Erisman