This Veterans Day, it is important to remember that not every service member experiences Veterans Day in the same way. In fact, some prior service members may not consider themselves veterans at all. This is especially common for service members who have not had combat experience or may not have seen “action” when serving in a combat zone. For those who do consider themselves veterans, some enjoy being recognized for their service to our country; for others, the recognition may seem overwhelming or even undeserved. For years I fell into the latter category.
As a veteran it was difficult for me to understand why I was being celebrated and offered all these discounts and “freebies” when so many of my brothers and sisters lost in combat were not able to enjoy the same rewards. I served as a Mental Health Technician in the US Army with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, being medically retired after eight years of service, I felt that I had not fulfilled my full obligation to my country.
Many friends tried to explain to me why I should be honored, why I should be going out and enjoying the things that were being offered and why I shouldn’t feel the way I did. I was being “should-ed” so much that I began to feel guilty and alone for feeling the way I did.
It is common to try to support someone by giving advice, trying to talk them out of how they are feeling or telling them what they should do. When I was feeling unworthy around Veterans Day, all I really needed was someone to give me reassurance that it was natural for some veterans to feel the way I was feeling. Someone to let me know that it was OK.
The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Action Plan (ALGEE) teaches us that giving reassurance and Information is not the same thing as giving advice. Giving reassurance can provide a person with a feeling of hope and connectedness. During the time when I was feeling undeserving of the attention that often goes along with Veterans Day, all I really needed was someone to listen nonjudgmentally and accept and acknowledge the way I was feeling even if they did not agree. Someone to reassure me that it was natural for some veterans to feel the way I was feeling.
Over time, I found the support I was seeking and was able to find the appropriate professional to help me navigate the emotions I was experiencing. Even though I may never stand up at events when they ask veterans to stand and be acknowledged, I will now go out and enjoy a free meal on Veterans Day in honor of all the service members who no longer can.
This Veterans Day, please remember that not all service members think of themselves as veterans, and not all service members think of Veterans Day the same way.
If you would like to better support Veterans and Service Members consider taking MHFA for Military Members, Veterans and Their Families. The course teaches people how to notice and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges with a specific focus on cultural factors related to military life. Get trained today!