Many years ago, when I walked away from the military the first time and began my journey as a civilian the 2nd time around, I sat through a very interesting job interview. The supervisor interviewing me, himself a Vietnam veteran, told me what he thinks when he’s interviewing a veteran.
“Reliable. Hard working. Respect for authority. Good team player. Will take charge in the absence of direction. Self starter. Courteous. Doesn’t whine about insignificant things. Responsible. Has integrity and honor.”
That was more than 23 years ago. And, I think, it is time we, as veterans, started living up to that reputation. I’m going to warn you – this article is going to piss some of you off. I look forward to your comments and input.
I’M A VETERAN! YOU OWE ME!
Wrong answer. I once went into a lengthy, online meltdown because a fellow veteran made the mistake of harassing a civilian, stating, “I earned my first amendment rights, you have done nothing.” To me, that is the most absurd thing I have ever heard a veteran say to someone else. We didn’t earn our rights by virtue of our service to the country. Those rights are inalienable and were ours by virtue of our birth in this great country. Since we took an oath to defend the constitution of these United States, it would be a great idea if many of our veterans would read the document before going on some ignorant rant about who has rights, who deserves them, and how much more important we are as veterans because we put on a uniform.
There is much talk within the veterans community about feeling betrayed and how our country isn’t doing enough to help us. Let me begin by saying that I know a lot of veterans who do struggle with the VA and acquiring the care they need. I know. It can be true. But, also in some cases, we are our own worst enemy. You see, civilians won’t understand what is available and how it is acquired. They will just take your word for it and assume that everything you say is true and correct. You ARE a veteran, after all. And we all know that veterans have integrity and honor. Honesty is assumed and truthfulness is a given. Right?
It took the VA two years to make a determination on my relatively minor claim following injury to my shoulders. Two years! Was it frustrating? Sure it was. Did it negatively impact my life beyond the difficulties I already had? No. Did I spend an inordinate amount of time whining about it? No. Do you know why? No? Because I have all of my limbs. I don’t have to shit in a bag for the rest of my life. I am ambulatory and I can still hold down a job. So many of my fellow veterans can’t say the same thing. If they wanted to take FIVE years to deal with my stupid little claim, if they were concentrating on the much more important claims of those who truly needed help, I’m okay with that. You take care of my brothers and sisters who truly need it and I will wait until the chaos dies down for you to deal with me. All it took for me to back up and take a deep breath, count my blessings, and continue waiting was a simple walk through the mall whereupon I would see a 19 year old kid, a fellow veteran, walking on two prosthetic legs. Brand new, beautiful, high tech looking, awesome prosthetic legs that cost upwards of $25,000.00 a piece. Keep walking, brother. I can wait.
OUR GOVERNMENT BETRAYED US!
No, it did not. When you signed a contract to serve in this volunteer military, the finest military force ever known to mankind, you were promised a paycheck, uniforms, training, benefits, and compensation for any and all medical issues as a result of your service. You were not promised a job upon your return from service. You were not promised a life of luxury and privilege because you once wore that uniform. “I served in Iraq (pronounced EYE RACK usually) and I can’t find a job!” I’m sorry. I truly am. But, guess what? Millions of other Americans are also out of work. You aren’t alone. Take some of that motivation and dedication you showed by putting on that uniform and doing that difficult thing and apply it to your new life as a civilian. Make tough choices. Make good choices. Did you think serving time at the war would guarantee you a six figure income when you took that uniform off? If you did, part of the problem is you.
When you return from a combat tour, you are given five years of free medical coverage through the VA. If you aren’t using it, you are the problem. You were given education benefits that most people in the world will never see. If you aren’t using it, you are the problem. You were given packets of information, briefings, folders, web links, phone numbers, point of contact information, and an assortment of other things during your out processing. If you chose to skip those briefings, or slept through them instead of paying attention, and you now sit in the local bar chugging Budweisers and complaining about how nobody offered you any help when you came home, guess what? YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.
Are there people out there, well deserved combat veterans, who have been screwed over by the process? You’re damned right there are. And that is ridiculous and insulting to us all. But, it can be fixed. There is always a solution. You just have to know who to call and what buttons to push in order to make it happen. Guess what? Much of that information was probably in your out-processing packet.
I HAVE PTSD AND THERE IS NO HELP FOR ME!
Really? You’re going to pull that shit? Another wrong answer. Did you register at the VA when you came home and get set up with appointments for evaluations and available treatments? That’s what you were told to do when you came back from the war. Did you do it? I waited for two years for a claim to clear, and during that time I received NO treatment for the shoulder problem from the VA. Getting those appointments takes months and I chose to use civilian specialists to deal with it because I had that resource. I know many of you do not, so I understand how that works. But, when it comes to mental health, we do a vastly better job than we used to do and a far better job than civilians would think. I was put in a room with psych professionals within 30 days of hitting CONUS. I was offered any and all forms of help available. The VA writes me letters weekly and calls me once a month to ask if I need to come in for an appointment. And, whether I think I need an appointment or not, they badger me into coming in anyway because they want to make sure I am doing okay.
I certainly don’t take the psych meds that are suggested or offered. Both me and the psych professionals don’t believe I am in need of them but if I wanted them they would put me on them with the swipe of a pen. There are veterans out there right now, and you may know some of them, who are going untreated for serious PTSD issues, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Is that because treatment isn’t available for them? No. In some cases, it is simply because they won’t go get the help they need. And, as veterans, sometimes we do nothing to help them. Grab that dude by the scruff of the neck and walk his ass down to the VA and sit there with him until he gets the help he needs. I know, most of us don’t have time to babysit someone and make them do what they should be doing, but if you haven’t taken that step, you aren’t helping anymore than anyone else. Those are your brothers and sisters. Make sure they get help.
Many veterans play the PTSD card as a way of excusing bad behavior. Oooh… he actually just wrote that? Yes, he did. And you know it to be true. You probably know one. That guy who treats everyone like shit, drinks himself into a coma every night, smacks his girlfriend around, keeps getting arrested, and eventually winds up in jail, get this, was probably an asshole before he ever joined the military. Wartime service and a case of PTSD does not create a murderer, rapist, or uncontrollable idiot who can’t keep his ass out of court. No. And don’t try to tell me otherwise because I know far too many combat vets and people with PTSD for you to convince me. Stop blaming the war! I see those comments all of the time – “War does that to a person” or “PTSD makes a person like that” or “I blame Bush!” Society, and the veterans community, are so quick to excuse this behavior that we will look at veterans who are hopped up on steroids, shooting heroin, picking up hookers in foreign ports and say, “Damn that war! It did that to him!” Bullshit.
This week’s shooting at Fort Hood generated much debate on those issues and, once again, the war and PTSD are going to take the blame for an asshole’s actions. This was premeditated murder, ladies and gentlemen. Plain and simple. How do I know? Because Lopez intentionally, and illegally, brought a personal firearm into a government facility. He was intent on murder when he left his house that morning. Period. His intentions were clear. He was probably also taking psych meds, since he was apparently being treated for depression and anxiety. Treatment for depression and anxiety usually involves drugs of some kind. The one thing we know for sure about every mass murderer since before Columbine is that they were all on some form of psych meds. Listen to the commercials for these drugs! Every one of them tells you it can make your symptoms worse and can cause thoughts of suicide. They just leave out the part about causing thoughts of homicide as well. Lopez DID commit suicide. He just decided to take out some people he didn’t like before doing it.
As a generation of war fighters, we have become our own worst enemy. We want people to respect us, but we don’t respect others. We forget our own slogans and catch phrases. Things like, “Respect is earned.” We have no right to demand that people respect us simply because we wore a uniform or served in the war. How does that make us respectable? It doesn’t. Our actions and behavior is what garners respect for us. Lately, we haven’t been earning it. This, of course, doesn’t apply to everyone. Most of the vets I know are perfectly good people who have returned to their lives and are making the best of what the world has to offer.
The people I know, or knew, who went through the worst that war has to offer, fighting hand to hand against Japanese soldiers in the Pacific, fighting through German gun emplacements knowing that 80% of them would not survive, banging it out with the Viet Cong or NVA in a jungle so dark you can’t see your hands, and men who spent their entire careers on one combat deployment after another, chasing terrorists all over the world… these are the kindest and most respectful people I know. They aren’t violent, out of control assholes who look at the civilian world as a personal insult. They didn’t “tune out” the rest of the world and detach themselves from it, leaving it to those who seem to be actively making it worse. They are making the most of their lives and are working toward making the world a better place. They are involved. They see what is wrong with the world, and our own country, and want to do something about it.
Our grandfathers and great grandfathers didn’t come home from the war and tune out. They took their motivation and dedication and applied it to life itself, building the most prosperous nation the world has ever known. They didn’t wander around in their sleeveless camo blouse declaring that they are dysfunctional and unstable, thinking they would get sympathy or perhaps cause some small amount of fear in the community. In short, they were better than us.
I, like all of you, was a volunteer. Nobody forced me to join the military. Nobody forced me to go to war. I chose to do those things of my own free will. Even worse, I FOUGHT to get on a combat deployment and had to prove that my old, banged up body could handle the riggers of an austere environment. I wanted to do it. I felt compelled to join in on the fight. How can I blame someone else for what I experienced as a result? I can’t. The military is not my enemy. Civilians are not my enemy. The VA is not my enemy. It isn’t yours either. More often than not, WE are our own worst enemy.