By Jason Graven
No, my status as a veteran does not mean I am helpless. It does not mean I need some kind of war hero welfare. It does not mean I am incapable of providing for myself or my family. My status as a veteran means I served, that is it, and before you say it, you’re welcome.
Entering the military promised lifelong benefits. The GI Bill, disability compensation, pension after 20 years were all things every recruiter of every branch sold us. “You’ll love it” they said. Young kids, barely coming off their first sexual encounter, post-masterbation, signing a dotted line for love of country. A country we barely even knew. A country so stained by past societal sins and transgressions that half a century later a new generation would be actively trying to make up for the disrespectful actions of generations before.
No, I am not a hero, nor do I need your handouts.
The number 22 has become synonymous with veterans because of one report and countless campaigns of awareness. Television and cinema have portrayed us as psychologically damaged. Stigmas raised from the awareness have spurred hundreds of organizations to assist in the mission, and scared thousands of employers away from hiring us.
Four years have passed since the 2013 Veterans Affairs report that found that an average of 22 veterans per day were committing suicide. Since that time, a new crop of veteran’s organizations have emerged, sooo many exploiting the number 22 that I would also need your hands and feet to begin to accurately count them all, and a few others who have not taken the exploitation route. As you read these words, ask yourself, with all of these expert veteran run organizations, why is this still an issue? I have a theory.
Besides the exploitative nature of their names, they all have one thing in common; they are designed solely around giving veterans free shit. Free gym memberships, free job skills training, free dating advice, free toilet paper, etc. Anything and everything is basically available for free to any veteran ready and willing to raise their hand and say, “hi, I am Jason, a combat veteran, and I need help.”
Veterans tend to be some of the most prideful people on the planet, and it often strikes me as odd that fellow veterans would ask people to apply for benefits, or openly admit that they have psychological or physical damage, or hidden/unseen wounds from war. Frankly, it aint none of your God damned business. So, please stop with trying to give me shit for free so that you can convince a civilian that what you are doing is for the greater good to exercise their faux patriotic altruism and accept their in-kind donation of $19 a month. No, I am not your feel-good story.
The one aspect only a few organizations have been able to address effectively is camaraderie. When we served, we fought alongside other men and women ready and willing to die for us, and us for them, and unfortunately, many did. We then come home, back to the real world, and either find that our old friends are up to new things, such as new careers and families, or still doing the same ignorant activities that we have since outgrown. We come home and find ourselves alone in many respects. Maybe not literally, but for many of us, in the most applicable figurative sense possible. We come home young men and women, immature enough to laugh at “that’s what she said” and “poop” jokes, but more mature than our civilian parents and grandparents in most other aspects. We come home with survivor’s guilt, looking at our lives and trying to figure out how and why it was my ignorant ass that got to come home when Sgt. Atkins was taken. We come home angry as we try to find an avenue to release our stress and frustration only to find that, since less than half of one percent of the population has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, there aren’t any other veterans around so you turn to civilians who say they understand but find they are only just pretending because they felt it was the right thing to do and then gossiping about the things you have shared with them.
No, it isn’t free apparel complete with gift card that I need. I am looking for what I left behind. Not the war in Iraq, you can keep that. No, I need my brothers and sisters in arms. I need those who looked death in the eye with me only to come out smiling. I need those who understand that when I ask a question, I am looking for a yes-no answer, and if you roll your fucking eyes when I ask it I will lose my ever loving mind. I want those who understand that a simple head nod is all that is needed in most conversation for us to understand what kind of day each other is having and no, I don’t always need to talk about it. No, it is not a spot at the bar to talk about my experience in Iraq and compare it to yours in Vietnam complete with free annual membership and an opportunity to attend meetings were I’m treated like an inconvenience.
What I need is my dignity. I need to prove that I am useful and have more to offer. I need the opportunity to show that I can still be a positive influence on my community. And, I want the opportunity to help my brothers and sisters while I also help and provide for myself. What I need is a team.
And I know exactly where to turn.