Improving the Treatment of Veterans

Of all people in society, veterans deserve the most respect, yet often receive the least. This is unfortunate and detrimental to the fabric of our nation. And while we can gripe about the state of the VA all we want, it ultimately comes down to how we, as private citizens, treat these individuals.

The Mistreatment of Veterans

One of the more unfortunate realities of civilized society is the way in which good people let political opinions and beliefs directly affect the way they view and interact with other people. A political belief is often used as grounds and justification for mistreating people and violating their basic human rights. Sometimes the political belief is valid and carries weight, while other times it’s quite petty and shallow – but that’s not the point. The point is that we, as a culture, continue to let our deep-seated political affiliations ransack our common sense.

This reality plays out in arenas all across the country, but is perhaps nowhere more striking than in the treatment of veterans who have fought in battles that large segments of the population have disagreed with. The Vietnam War is a great example of this.

Millions of Americans were against the Vietnam War -- as were many of the soldiers who were thrust into battle. But these latter individuals had no choice. When their names were called, they responded with obedience and followed the orders they were given -- often doing so with great courage and pride. Yet when they returned home, many Vietnam veterans were greeted with vitriol and disrespect.

“We were not honored, but were treated as the face of an unpopular war,” Vietnam veteran Bob Feist recalls.

Much of the disrespect was subtle and insinuated, while other actions were quite blatant. Culturally, many vets were given the label of “baby killers.”

“We were shamed and embarrassed,” Feist says. “My car (with a military base sticker) was ‘egged.’ I bought a wig to hide my military haircut.”

Today, veterans don’t have to worry about being called “baby killers,” getting their cars egged, or covering up their military haircuts. However, one could make the argument that the mistreatment of veterans is stronger than it’s ever been in the past.

Instead of scowling at veterans as they pass on the street, our present-day culture simply refuses the respect and treatment that they deserve by denying quality healthcare, treatment, and opportunities. Veterans come home from war and are left to their own devices – which quickly becomes toxic when combined with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other serious, frequently undiagnosed issues.

Whether or not people agree with the concept of war, why a specific war was waged, or the political leaders in charge of calling the shots is no justification for disrespecting veterans. The soldiers on the front lines rarely have any sort of choice about what they do, when they do it, or why they do it. They’re given a job and asked to respond. We can hate the outcome of war. We can even feel strongly against the decision-makers behind a war. But to treat veterans badly simply because we think a war was wrong is foolish and shortsighted. It says more about the person doing the disrespecting than the individual who is being disrespected.

Practical Ways You Can Do Your Part

The government has a long way to go in improving the big picture, but for the first time in decades, it appears things are finally on the right track. President Donald Trump has already made significant strides in improving the VA. (He signed the largest VA budget ever last fall -- boosting the department’s funding budget by 6 percent at a time when many other agencies have experienced significant cuts – and has followed through on many of his campaign promises.) But we need more than executive and legislative action -- we need a paradigm shift to occur in the way we -- as private citizens -- treat our veterans.

Regardless of your political affiliation or view of war, here are some extremely practical ways you can treat this vulnerable and needy population with the care and respect they deserve as human beings.

  1. Educate Yourself on PTSD and Depression

If it hasn’t affected someone in your inner circle of friends and family, you probably don’t know much about PTSD and depression. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on the basics of these conditions, how symptoms are expressed, and how to support and care for individuals suffering from these mental health issues.

There’s a Latin phrase, “Emollit mores nec sinit esse feros,” that translates to, “Learning humanizes character and does not permit it to be cruel.” In other words, the more educated you become on a matter, the more humane you’ll be. Take the time to learn about these issues and you’ll feel greater compassion and sympathy -- which will fuel more constructive action.

  1. Address Practical Needs Through Business

Find out what specific issues veterans are facing and start or support businesses that address these pain points.

For example, many veterans find difficulty in obtaining their DD214 form from the U.S. Department of Defense (which is necessary in order to obtain benefits and entitlements). Businesses like DD214Direct, which help veterans obtain DD214 forms are much needed. Entrepreneurs should be on the lookout for other pain points that can be solved through efficient, private businesses.

  1. Hire Veterans in Your Business

You don’t need a business that’s focused on serving veterans to make an impact. For all the small business owners out there, simply making a decision to hire veterans is a great way to provide purpose and provision for them. (This is especially important for older veterans who often end up homeless.) CSX is a great example of a military-friendly employer. In fact, 1 in 5 CSX employees has served in the military.

  1. Support Veteran Causes

For those with discretionary income, financially supporting veteran causes is a great way to empower businesses, charities, and groups that are already making a positive impact. Here’s a list of some of the top-rated charities for supporting military members, veterans, and their families.

  1. Say “Thank You”

Sometimes it’s the simplest actions that mean the most. In a time when many veterans feel disrespected by the larger culture, you can have an impact by simply saying, “Thank you.” Veterans appreciate kind words as much as anyone and love the opportunity to share stories and interact with people who appreciate them.

Painting a New Future for Veterans

As the Declaration of Independence states, certain truths are self-evident. One such truth is that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights. When we disrespect veterans, we’re violating this notion and saying that people only have rights when we agree with them.

If you go too far down this mental rabbit trail, you’ll quickly realize this is a terrible idea. Because as soon as you decide that respect is only to be given when you agree with someone, you begin to isolate yourself and only associate with a select group of people – an action that is antithetical to the very tenets of America’s founding.

The problem is deeply entrenched and highly emotional, but the solution to the mistreatment of veterans is simple. Rather than wait for the government to initiate sweeping change, step in and do your part to treat veterans with respect and care – giving them opportunity to thrive in a hostile world.