Our veterans are not broken
Monday is Veterans Day, which means the colors red, white, and blue will flood the streets and neighborhoods across our country.
Children will gather in gymnasiums to hear the stories of local heroes who sacrificed more than words can explain. There will be free coffee, meals and haircuts given as a “thank you” to service members for their commitment and bravery.
Parades will be held, wreaths will be laid and handshakes will be shared. It is a day we can express our gratitude for the men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for our freedom.
Celebrating the courage of these men and women does not have to be limited to 24 hours. After all, our freedom is not limited to just one day.
South Carolina is home to more than 400,000 veterans. And contrary to common belief, the faces of our service members are not just the retired men of the Vietnam era.
They are both men and women. Some of these faces are painted with wrinkles that hold stories and wisdom that come only with age. Some are youthful and have only recently said “goodbye” to pimply, teenage years. Some see their own reflection in the faces of their newborn babies, while others can’t help but mimic the smiles of their grandchildren. Some of these faces have eyes that have seen things they wish they hadn’t. Some have eyes that spent hours looking at screens and counting numbers while they did their part to keep their brothers and sisters in combat safe.
The stories of our service members are all unique, but they all share a choice that will always be worth celebrating: the choice to serve our country, in whatever capacity they were needed, no matter the cost. The bravery that accompanies this decision is immeasurable.
Yet our culture often believes the myth that our veterans are broken.
Broken should not be a word we associate with our service members.
These are the characteristics of our veterans.
What we often mistake as “broken” is the adjustment these men and women have had to make to a “new normal.” This can be tough, especially if it is faced alone.
Sometimes it might mean living every day with PTSD or an amputated leg. It might mean struggling to reconnect with family. Joblessness. Homelessness. Loneliness. Addiction. Self-harm. While each of these are very real and often traumatic, we must understand that these are symptoms, not character flaws.
Many of the experiences described above are problems that have solutions. In our own community, we have experts who work with service members to improve their physical and mental wellness.
We have organizations that work one on one with veterans to help secure jobs and homes. Liaisons help navigate treatment options, family support and VA benefits. Peer groups and gatherings offer a space of fellowship and community. There are resources available that acknowledge and honor the unique stories each of our veterans hold, no matter the branch or era in which they served, and meet each person where they are.
Let’s change the narrative of broken to one of gratitude and hope. Yes, thank a service member Monday. Greet them with a handshake and a warm cup of coffee. But let’s not limit the celebration and gratitude to one day. Each of these men and women made a choice that contributed to the freedom we experience every day. Let us make a choice to honor their sacrifice and their stories as well.
If you keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see people wearing veteran hats around our community; a smile and a “thank you” is a simple way to show your support. Allow the veterans in your life a space to share their experiences if they would like. Change the way you speak about our service members, shedding a light on their stories full of bravery and hope.
You can even stop by community events, like the Pee Dee’s Veteran Advisory Council or HopeHealth’s Veterans with Hope monthly gathering.
And remember … our veterans are not broken.
To all of our current and former service members and their families: Thank you for your service and sacrifice. Happy Veterans Day.
Veterans participate in a group drumming therapy demonstration during the first Veterans with Hope Program at HopeHealth. The monthly program is open to all veterans and their family members on the third Tuesday of each month to help Veterans connect with peers and resources. South Carolina is home to more than 400,000 veterans; men and women from all walks of life.