Just prior to my deployment, I came across a group of people who plan to propose to Congress that the definition of “Veteran” should change. This has been on my mind since it’s the week of Veterans Day and I’m serving in Afghanistan. This group is “representing” military service members, yet when I inquired, the enlisted organization only had 30 members and admitted to “not having time or personnel” to somehow survey Service Members to hear their opinions on the matter. I had a frank discussion with one of the leaders of this movement back in July, expressing to her that I, as a Veteran, was insulted that people who have not earned the title are now wanting to change the definition so they can reap additional benefits—primarily financial. What do you all think about that?
I get it, I get it—this is a popular current trend in America, the feeling of entitlement without putting in the work. However, when did it become acceptable to feel like one “deserves” something that was clearly not earned? When did it become acceptable to want to equate oneself to a higher title without meeting the known requirements? I was raised to believe that hard work pays off, and that I can achieve whatever I set out to achieve—I don’t understand the mentality of simply “wanting” to take something without dedicating what’s known to earn it. Now, I can see a point to Troops who have served in areas that were potentially dangerous, etc. but for some odd reason that location was not recognized—I agree this work should be included. This is a separate issue though.
In my line of work and especially being here in Afghanistan, I am keenly aware of all the sacrifices made by men and women who have rightfully earned the title Veteran. I also personally know of people who, over the years, deliberately avoided the criteria that would have earned them that title. An Army Reservist said to me once, “You know, we’re deploying but if you really don’t want to go, let me know. I haven’t been in for 16 years without a deployment by accident.” Yes, these people most definitely exist. Do they deserve the same recognition and honor as those who have almost died in combat? What’s so horrible about different levels of service and benefits? It’s not as though Service Members who aren’t Veterans don’t have any benefits—they do! Education benefits, insurance benefits, retirement benefits, investment benefits, incentives, you name it. But they want MORE and they want the SAME as Veterans and they want to also be called a Veteran.
If you have been in the military for 20 years and have not earned Veteran status it’s because of one of the following 3 reasons: 1) you deliberately avoided it, changing units or coming up with an excuse or knowing people to get you out of it 2) You served during a time of decreased mobilizations or you chose to work in a capacity that had decreased chances of deployment or 3) You got lucky.
However, regardless of any of those reasons, if at any point a Service Member wants to obtain the status of Veteran, he or she can ALWAYS volunteer for a deployment (such as I have) in order to meet the criteria of Veteran. What constitutes being a Veteran is no secret in the military. But for someone to only sit around a building one weekend a month and go to a shooting range or the field or a location 2 weeks a year—this person does not deserve the same honor as those who have put their lives at risk, been blown up and have brain injuries, have lost their limbs, have heard mortar rounds at night, have seen their best friends bloodied and torn into pieces, have missed special moments and Christmases with their children, slept on the ground with a truck muffler for warmth, or oh yeah, ultimately lost their lives—these are the real Veterans who deserve distinction and additional recognition.
I’m sorry if some people feel they sat at the ready and were simply never called upon. But shame on you for feeling entitled to what my fellow Veterans, my friends and colleagues who are now in graves, and I have rightfully earned. If you are a Veteran and are reading this, thank you for what you’ve done and what you’ve sacrificed to earn that name. To those of you who support Veterans, I sincerely thank you for your altruism and patriotism—your support means the world to us. To those of you who would also like to see the word, “Veteran” retain its definition of honor and distinction, I urge you to contact the Reserve Officers Association or the Reserve Enlisted Association and express yourself so to truly represent all Service Members who will be affected by a change in the word, Veteran—not just Reservists who would like the honor and benefits.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.