As an organization that advocates for veterans issues on a daily basis, we often find ourselves in strange conversations with people where we seem to be trying to create a priority list for which groups or causes deserve more time and attention than others. It’s a strange game to play and one that, as a veteran, I cannot help but thinking we should win. Its true though, in philanthropy, there are only so many dollars available and foundations, corporations, and individuals are making these decisions every day.
I found myself explaining to someone the other day that because the military represents every race, every state, every gender, and every political thought from our country and beyond, veterans issues created a sort of super structure around my thought process whereas soon as we began to turn the tide of veterans’ statistics from a negative to a positive, I’d be able to move on to other issues, and there are plenty of other issues I’m quite concerned about in America.
However, on the heels of a very successful Veterans Day, I want to take a moment, and as self righteous as this sounds, to remind people, that as wonderful as Veterans Day is, the real work begins now for us, today. Veterans Day is sort of like New Year’s Eve. There’s a tremendous amount of build up, an orgy of festivities, promises of what to do next year, and then for many American’s, an incredibly hung over New Year’s Day and business as usual.
We cannot afford to do this for another year.
On Veteran’s Day, many non-veterans can feel close to our military members who have been inspired by something greater than themselves to become part of a great and honored tradition, but sometimes I wonder if Veterans Day does not set us further apart from our community, rather than helping us transition back home. There are few professions quite as familial as the military. The thing is, as veterans, to paraphrase General Omar Bradley, we do not want to be put up on a pedestal, but we do want to be considered equal to those who chose not to serve.
You join the military as a group, almost like a litter of pups, enlisted or cadets. You are given new skills and through this learning process deep bonds of camaraderie and connection with your new family are happy to sacrifice for and to take unbelievable risk. These connections are often tested time and time again in the crucible of combat, where the bonds are made even stronger. We learned how to be soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who will do whatever it takes to accomplish a given mission.
And then when we leave the military, we are set a drift. Perhaps we have been physically or mentally damaged, but to quote US Marine Jordan Latva, “The real disability is not what’s been done to my legs, but the separation from my men.” We are silently judged and prejudiced by a society that does not understand our experiences and the reasons why we joined the military. We are asked ignorant questions and we often fold inside our identity as has-been warriors and we begin to question what great mission we could possibly participate in outside of the service and we begin to question what great family we could find outside the bonds of uniform.
We are told that we are given a set of benefits. That is true, the GI Bill, VA health care, preferential treatment for government jobs, and free food and services on Veterans Day, but none of these things necessarily help us make the transition from our mission oriented, self sacrificing life to a civilian life where we can thrive and put our considerable talents, experiences, and leadership gained through the life of a warrior to work for the broader society. We did not sign up for the military for hand outs, but rather for the challenge. We’re addicted to it! So while all the benefits help to some degree, until the statistics change, what more proof do we need that more needs to be done?
Its Monday morning, time to get back to work and I, we as veterans and Veterans Expeditions remind you to not let the hangover from our Veterans Day hamper you as you go about your business. Instead, let it spur yo on to continued action. Please help us ensure that a year from now, on the next Veterans Day, we have better news to report.