I am a Black Woman veteran that proudly served in the United States Army. I served as a leader of Soldiers, a person of integrity, and committed to accomplishing my mission in peacetime as well as in combat. Most importantly, I served the U.S. Army, my family and my country honorably. When I hear the words, “Thank you for your service”, it usually means more to me than the person offering them as a patriotic symbol of gratitude; they are not just words. Some veterans hate being told thanks for their service. Often times, veterans question if they are genuine words of gratitude or just something civilians say to make themselves feel better? Or is it just easier to thank those that look like us and share the same political views?
Veterans are often used as political pawns when it fits a hidden, and sometimes not so hidden, agenda or to dress up an unpopular narrative that cannot stand on its own. Unfortunately, addressing important political and personal issues that affect all citizens is when people rally to jump on a band wagon to “support our veterans” just to gain support for their current cause. People love veterans but mostly when it is convenient for them. Simply google the word “veteran” and notice the first five images that appear. Most people who aren’t related to a veteran or know a veteran personally merely show love to veterans symbolically. Somewhere along the way the patriotism of veterans becomes the cover and concealment of the real personal but politically driven issues of our country.
As a woman in the military, there was always a constant reminder that women served in ‘A Man’s Army’.
During last two years of World War I, women were allowed to join the military. 33,000 women serve as nurses and support staff officially in the military and more than 400 nurses die in the line of duty. Yet when it comes to honoring veterans, the accolades are given to the men while discounting the significant roles women have played for centuries. Very rarely did I benefit from the preference and privilege given to male veterans that I served alongside me throughout my career. The biased male dominated tradition still holds true for the VA motto that gives credit to all men that serve. The VA motto is outdated and sexist: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Women veteran contributions are ignored and continue to be marginalized. Being ignored during service is bad enough, but even worse is the fastest growing segments of homeless veterans are women. It is easy to forget women are veterans too.
No one wants to ask why a large portion of Black (African-American) veterans support Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s protest was about racial injustice and excessive force directed at minorities in this country. It is hard to understand how active Caucasian shooters are so easily apprehended without a fear of one’s life, but people of color are assumed to be a threat to all lives. Somehow the narrative became that those that kneeled were disrespecting our troops and the American flag. Schools do not teach students about the Red Summer of 1919 when an alarming number of black veterans were lynched “outright” after returning from war. It was a tragedy and sadly forgotten history of Black military veterans who honorably served their country.
Might I suggest everyone remove their blinders and actually give all veterans regardless of their gender and race a seat at the table? Less than 1% of the population serves in the military so is it possible to stop passing over highly qualified veterans for political favors and nepotism. Hiring and promoting unqualified individuals rather than qualified veterans is more disrespectful to veterans than taking a knee while the National Anthem is being played. Stop telling veterans they are over qualified for a position they obviously have respectfully applied to work in to simply provide for themselves and their families. Most veterans are top-notch employees. Veterans possess qualities and work ethics that make them a great asset to any company or organization.
Some companies and departments refuse to provide reasonable accommodations for veterans with disabilities that choose to work. It is not only unethical but illegal in regard to the guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It only takes a little effort to minimize triggers for veterans that suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Providing reasonable accommodations increases productivity that actually applies to any and all employees; veterans are not the only people living with PTSD and MST. There is a tendency to re-victimize victims because employers do not want to be inconvenienced or made to feel as though they are giving in to the ‘fair’ demands of an employee. Employers and supervisors ignore the fact that most times that it’s the victims who will endure the most scrutiny while sacrificing themselves and their dignity in order to survive financially, avoid the fear of being black-listed in their career fields or wrongly harassed by a judgmental society.
I realize that my commitment to service really has to be enough because I did what I believed to be the right thing to do for me. It was truly an honor serving in the United States Army for 20 years. The bonus was being exposed to different cultures and languages which truly enhanced the human being that I already was. I am hopeful that as we engage in uncomfortable conversations about PTSD and MST, hiring agencies will provide adequate training for HR personnel as well as all employees on the sensitivity and consideration of others in these situations. Unfortunately, people who have never experienced an emotional trauma really cannot relate to people living PTSD or MST until they have to face it for themselves. I hope to live to see the day when the stigma associated with mental health ceases to exist, but for now I’ll settle for the majority to just acknowledge that there’s no shame in mental illness and on some level we all live with some type of emotional issues the affect our basic mental health.
U.S Army Retired