How to truly help those who served on Veteran's Day

By Tyler Pruett

Veteran’s Day was originally established as Armistice Day to commemorate those who had served in World War I. After the second world war and Korea, President Eisenhower officially renamed it “Veterans” day to commemorate Americans who served in all wars. Other than a brief change in the date, which was soon returned back to November 11, nothing else has really changed about this federal holiday. Only public opinion and the nature of the conflicts in which Americans endure have changed. Before attending the University of Alabama, I enlisted in the Army, serving as an Airborne infantryman in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I have been asked on several occasions since leaving the Army what this day means to me and what the public can do to better honor our veterans. Generally caught off guard, my response to these questions rarely provides any insight.

Readjustment from combat deployments relies heavily on finding a place in society. Many veterans leave service having an, “on a pedestal feeling.” This stems from enduring hardships that most back home cannot and will not ever understand without experiencing themselves. The welcome home celebrations end quickly, and normal life is a challenge. Many well-meaning members of the public misunderstand “readjusting” as an adjustment needed to adapt from war back to normal life. It’s more of an adaptation to life after war. The different emotions generated from handling situations where your own life or that of others hangs in the balance can be so extreme that it hinders our ability to seriously feel those emotions in civilian life. For example, meeting a deadline for a crucial task at a normal job won’t produce the same sense of urgency to many veterans as it would the average person, simply because we’ve experienced that on a different level. Although many vets will also tell you that military service gives all that endures it a great ability to, “fake the funk,” or give the impression of motivation. Sometimes, even our fake motivation can exceed  the average person’s real motivation. This leads to a persistent lack of fulfillment in our new lives that cannot be faked.

No matter how hard one tries, you can’t help someone with a struggle if you don’t first understand that struggle. Popular culture likes to portray complex issues like PTSD as having “flashbacks” or being “startled” by a loud noise when this is not only untrue, it’s damaging to the readjustment process and further alienates those who served. No one suddenly develops a fear of fireworks after having to deal with the ominous chatter of an AK-47 firing at you, or a mortar round exploding nearby. That’s like skydiving, but then developing a fear of climbing a 10 foot ladder from the original experience. While we cannot expect normal life to generate the same level of fulfillment, we can at least hope that society will eventually develop an understanding of the real struggle.

While the fulfillment of military service is difficult to replicate, a high level of fulfillment can be achieved through finding a good career and being provided with opportunities to advance through merit. The appreciation of businesses shown through free meals for vets at local restaurants on Veterans Day or discounts for vets at other retail stores is well intentioned, and conveys the respect of our nation towards its veterans. However, those that served would benefit more from those businesses hiring more of them, helping them find training for a new skill or a job elsewhere that can assist them in elevating their status in life. Most vets, out of pride, would rather have an opportunity to earn an income to buy something rather than it be given to them. While the appreciation is conveyed, no lasting fulfillment is received from just a handout. While sentiment is in the right place and appreciated, a discounted or free meal does not do a lot to help our veterans better themselves or improve their lives in the long run. Although each veteran’s story is different, the public can better help by listening, offering understanding and doing things to help vets empower their own lives.