A Veteran's Plea: Stop Coddling Us
Janill Gilbert stashed this in War, Huh, Good God
Many of those who have served in the military are heroes and deserve our care. But according to this vet, most aren't, and don't.
For the last 14 years, uniformed Americans have been in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable. We've parachuted into Iraq, marched wearily through the mountains of Tora Bora, and slept in shit at Musa Qala. We've toppled dictators, trained counterterrorism forces in Africa, and killed the most dangerous terrorist in the world. And then, too many of us have come home and whined about every minuscule slight, offense, or lapse in judgment perpetrated against us while indulging in some of the most decadent of accommodations.
We've got to stop.
It's not entirely the fault of 21st-century veterans that we demand to have our egos coddled. The desire early on to suppress dissent for the poorly justified conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a sense of collective guilt for the shameful treatment of Vietnam veterans, forced our nation to open its proverbial arms and wrap us veterans in soft, star-spangled blankets.
That is how we arrived at a place in American society where the roughest men and women our country can produce are babysat. Our supermarkets have reserved veteran parking spaces, despite handicapped spaces already existing for any veteran who actually needs accommodation. We grandstand for veteran employment programs without considering that the veteran unemployment rate is actually less than that of the general population. We rant about the broken promise of disability compensation while the Department of Veterans Affairs is awarding disability claims at the fastest rate in history. Even with all these faux controversies, we still manage to find time for manufactured outrage about gym wear and TV ratings gambits.
And at every turn, our insistence for tribute to our egos is indulged. Taxpayers fund hero worship at sporting events, and marketing campaigns give Americans a warm fuzzy while also helping a retailer offset the revenue lost from longer lasting light bulbs.
I don't write this simply as a call to my fellow veterans to put on their big girl- or boy-pants and get on with their lives. The pedestal we've built for ourselves has serious consequences. Certainly, there are veterans with profound physical and unseen challenges. I count many amongst my friends. Those women and men need and deserve every bit of support they receive and more.
The problem is that all of us—the vast majority of who are well-adjusted, able-bodied citizens—seem to expect the accommodations that should be reserved for injured warriors. A number of those who served in recent conflicts can legitimately be called heroes. But—and I hate to be the messenger here—no matter what our recruiter, sergeant major, or mother told us, we're probably not amongst them. That's no insult. Overwhelmingly, we volunteered for tough jobs that put us in harm's way, did them well, and came home. That's admirable. But it doesn't mean we deserve a parking space more than a single parent with a small child. It doesn't mean we deserve a job more than the forty-something-year-old teacher who just got laid off. And it doesn't entitle us to anyone's damn light bulb.
When everyone is a hero, no one is a hero. And claiming undeserved hero status obscures the hardships of our sisters and brothers who actually need assistance.
Further, while we may not be more special than our civilian counterparts, we are different. Many of us do face a serious challenge in reintegration. The civilian world is vastly divergent from the life we came to know in the military and adjusting to it doesn't always come easily. But it is not the world's responsibility to adjust to us because we volunteered for a job. Consistently separating ourselves as "the other" doesn't make the adjustment easier, and it provides a living example to civilians that they should be treating all veterans as outsiders.
Again, this doesn't apply to vets that have significant wounds (visible or unseen) that legitimately make reintegration overwhelming. They deserve assistance and I hope they seek it. But eating ice cream at Camp Victory for seven months doesn't make you Audie Murphy.
As veterans, it's our responsibility to police our sisters and brothers, to call bullshit on our buddies that scream "STOLEN VALOR!" at every opportunity. Until we do, we will forever be seen as separate from the rest of America, and an overwhelming sense of being American is what led us to serve in the first place.
Richard Allen Smith is a former Army sergeant. He served five years on active duty, including a deployment to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division from February of 2007 to April of 2008. He holds a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family.
Stashed in: Military!