In a recent function honoring Veterans, I once again encountered the stereotypical responses various war injuries creates. For those not aware of this, physical injuries like amputations and visible scars from shrapnel and burns attract more attention then ones like psychological or sensory loss.
During this venue, civilians and Veterans alike drew towards a very dear friend of mine who sustained an amputation. I stood immediately next to him the entire time, with the white cane displayed. We both wore name tags indicating branch of service, name, and rank. Many individuals shook his remaining hand and thank him for his service, while ignoring me. To add insult to injury, one individual even asked if I were a Veteran after talking with my friend.
I do not blame these well wishers on their ignorance, rather the methods they became classically conditioned to respond in this manner. I wish for you to answer the following questions to yourselves:
- In the last commercial, news article, article, or other syndication featuring a disabled Veteran, what type of injury captivated your interest?
- During this same story, what generation of Veteran was explicitly announced or eluded to?
- Which organization sponsored the advertisement or was mentioned in the article?
As an individual who interacts with all Veterans, regardless of generation or disabilities, these stereotypes generates feelings of exclusion in many. This conclusion arose when talking with Vietnam Era Veterans about how they feel with so many services from non-profits to the VA focuses solely on newer generations of Veterans. Similarly, Veterans of the current conflicts stated experiences like mine from above.
To highlight this point, the following two stories demonstrates that my experiences from above occur to others.
While at a rally to honor the fallen heroes from service in the Middle East, a reporter noticed a female Veteran in a wheelchair wearing a Marine shirt. Honing in like a vulture, she immediately started to ask the Marine about her service. When the reporter discovered that the paralysis occurred stateside, the reporter immediately ended the interview. This same predator completely ignored the other two Veterans standing right besides our female Marine in the wheel chair, both of whom wore shirts that identified them as a Wounded Warrior from Iraq, just without a visual injury. The Veteran immediately described a feeling of anger and frustration.
In another example, a Veteran met the founder of a non-profit providing services to recent disabled Veterans. He wore an eye patch, as he still required further surgery before receiving a prosthetic eye. The founder, who was not a Veteran, barely made it through introductions before clamoring to a Veteran with an amputation, where multiple photos immediately occurred. This left the Veteran with a feeling being left behind.
I write this not to establish and attitudes of us versus them, but rather to request fair and equal treatment to all Veterans. It matters not if service produced a life changing injury or during a time of peace. Every person who raised their hand and took an oath to support and defend the United States served our country. I will not sway anyone to support or donate to one organization over another, but simply ask yourself what organization seems to provide services that you support. If it takes too much effort to identify actual tangible services outside of “advocacy” or “raising awareness,” you probably need to look elsewhere.
As a Veteran who identifies themselves as disabled, I only ask for fairness. Do not take pity or give me a hand out. I am not a victim of war, or my volunteered service to the United States of America.
I am a Veteran, who disabilities from war changed my life. I fully accept this new state, and embrace all challenges. I only desire your respect after earning the opportunity to prove myself.
These are the items we need to assist in our transitions. It matters not if the transition started only a couple of days ago when the person incurred an injury from a deployment, or 70 years ago on the beaches of Normandy. Each Veteran carries with them the impacts of their traumas for life. What differs stems from how these items impacts quality of life and barriers to succeed.