Breaking Free of the Wounded Warrior Tag

For Service Members and Veterans injured since 9/11, popular western culture tagged this cohort as a “Wounded Warrior.” This title has since been molded into individual identities to names of numerous “non-profit” corporations. Even the Army renamed the previous Medical Hold companies, that provided services and a place for Soldier to recover while separating, the Army Wounded Warrior program. In this post, I am going to dissect the “wounded warrior” tag and evaluate its roles.

The term, “wounded warrior,” consists of two words, a noun with a descriptor, “wounded” being the type of “warrior.” The most applicable definition for wounded in the Webster Dictionary is, “”: injured, hurt by, or suffering from a wound.” In this context, wounded is an adjective to describe the next work, warrior. Webster defines warrior as, “: a man engaged or experienced in warfare; broadly : a person engaged in some struggle or conflict.” 

From these two definitions we can tease part several different definitions for “wounded warrior,” including:

  • A person who engaged in warfare who is suffering from a wound
  • A person in conflict after being injure by a wound
  • A person hurt by warfare or a conflict
  • A person struggling with an injury

None of these simple examples dictate a precise time or place for when an injury might have occurred or what type of conflict is required to be engaged with. For example, a person can be struggling with themselves after sustaining a disability. Likewise, sexual assault is a type of conflict that creates injuries and hurt at numerous psychological to physiological levels. Based on this summary, calling a person a “wounded warrior,” who was injured during military service, makes logical sense, until we apply the popular culture beliefs.

To best explain the popular culture definition of “wounded warrior,” conduct a search in any search engine for the term “Wounded Warrior.” On the first page of Google results, I received one ad for the Wounded Warrior Project, ten search results linking to the Wounded Warrior Project website or media discussing that organization. On the second page, two ads appeared, one for the Wounded Warrior Project and one for one of the best and morally responsible organizations, the USO. For search results, the top one linked me to the University of Kansas Wounded Warrior Scholarship, which I support and receive, several other nonprofits with the term wounded warrior in their name, and more links for the Wounded Warrior Project. Keep in mind that these results are skewed by my common searches and visited links through my Google account. To provide a different series of results, I also searched Google Scholar for the term. Interestingly enough, results focused on a wider range of research articles, like results of Wounded Knee, other Native American research of a historical lens, care for returning US military Service Members, and a case study of the Army Wounded Warrior program from 2009.

At this point, it plausible to guess that a person unfamiliar with the entire history and context of the term “wounded warrior” might formulate a perception that a wounded warrior is a person injured while serving in the US military and most likely receives services from the Wounded Warrior Project. Furthermore, this “Wounded Warrior” most likely is in their mid 20’s with a combat injury impacting their mobility, cognitive functioning, Post Traumatic or Stress, requires many services to remain independent, and focuses on sports and recreational activities for rehabilitative outlets.

This in large part is not a negative belief to develop from this little experiment, since many of these actions and statuses has positively impacted numerous Service Members and Veterans. Rather, the negative consequence arises when stereotyping occurs. To elaborate on this, reflect on the applicability for imposing the term “wounded warrior” on these examples:

  • What do we call a Vietnam Veteran who sustained a combat injury and/or dealing with the multiple chronic diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure?
  • What do we call a Soldier who stormed the beaches of Normandy and might be struggling with numerous physical conditions related to military service to age related onset?
  • What do we call a Marine injured in Desert Storm or is battling with chemical exposure related conditions from this time period?
  • What do you call a person who never deployed or served in peacetime, but lost limb in a training accident?
  • what point does a Wounded Warrior just become a disabled Veteran like these other examples?

Its from these examples that the term “wounded Warrior” begins to become detrimental, for it separates the current generation of warfighter from these past generations. Furthermore, this term has been used to horde a multitude of funds and resources from public to private donors and entities for services and research for the demographic called “Wounded Warriors,” with varying levels of transferability and generalizability to the greater population of humans. However, these assumption only blankets the term “wounded warrior” when applied in a greater population based context. The term also has meaning at an individual level.

From the personal identity aspect, this Huffington Post article summarizes my beliefs nicely. The term “wounded warrior” should have a shelf life. It is most beneficial for those recently injured or undergoing the transformative process whereby one integrates their new state of being into their normative self. This process cannot contain any time limits, for we each process through the various recovery models, treatment plans, and personal acceptance frameworks at different rates, where relapse is very plausible. So yes, the term “wounded warrior” at a personal level might be valuable, its solely based on the individual, but I still suggest one focuses on devising their own meanings and identities useful for their recovery process.

Healing does occur, and lifelong struggles can be redefined. People living with chronic pain face an ongoing battle, but healing is possible. This starts with accepting the chronic pain is normal and moving towards understanding and redefining pain and personal limits.

With my own story around blindness, it might have taken years to accept the loss, but acknowledging it and working with it tremendously impacted my wellbeing. The tag “wounded warrior” greatly appealed to me at one point in my life, for it represented a sexy title that showered me with applause and well wishes, but this only provided relief at a superficial level. Attending recreational events for Wounded Warriors allowed me to temporarily mask or hide my internal pain and struggles, but then you return home to your real life. Around 2008 I realized this, and started searching for a deeper sense of self and stronger identity that included my disability as a normal part of life. Once formulated, I sought opportunities assist others in this process, accepting myself as a disabled individual and not a “wounded warrior.”. 

To place this in a theoretical construct, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creates a valid method to describe this process. The seven needs include:

  • Biological needs: food, shelter, water, sex, warmth, etc…
  • Safety needs: protection, order, stability, and escape from fear
  • Love and belonging: association with a group, relationships, social networks, friends and family, etc…
  • Esteem needs: sense of mastery, accomplishment, independence, respect
  • Cognitive needs: knowledge, meaning, belief development
  • Ascetic needs: appreciation and search for beauty and balance
  • Self actualization needs: altruistic feelings, self fulfillment, beliefs
  • Transcendence needs: aiding others in the pursuit of their needs

Each of these steps builds off each other, and outside the first two steps, are more perceptual based rather than materialistic. When transposing this model on the recovery for Wounded Warriors, the identity of “wounded warrior” ceases to be important above the belonging phase. Esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self actualization, and transcendence needs each revolve around ones internal learning and abilities to accept themselves for who they are, and rise above simple tags. We still might operate services and programs that capitalize on tag lines, like “wounded warrior,” but on a personal level this bares no difference than our social security number or middle name.