I am a veteran. I hear all the time about how veterans are struggling once they choose, or are sometimes forced, to leave the military. It is true, generally speaking, that veterans are struggling in their transitions into civilian life. At the same time, I constantly see veterans blaming their struggles on everyone but themselves. Be it the VA, the government, employers, “liberal pussies,” and pretty much anyone who isn’t a veteran. Herein lays the crux of the problem. I propose that every veteran read this as they are transitioning. Candor and comprehension will help you in your transition more than any government program or therapist ever will.
1. YOU ARE NOT BETTER than everyone else simply because you chose to serve your country.
You aren’t. This superiority complex of sorts will only sharpen the schism between you and your new civilian peers. In fact, you shouldn’t even consider your new situation as “you and everyone else” rather you should be working to assimilate yourself, not separate. Many of the veterans I meet these days….frankly put….are arrogant assholes who believe they are above everyone else. That line of thinking needs to cease immediately.
2. YOU ARE NOT A HERO just because you deployed to the Middle East.
You aren’t. Some people will say otherwise, some will agree with my statement. The point of the statement is that whether you are or not, you cannot expect everyone to believe you’re Audie Murphy merely because you went to Iraq or Afghanistan. People are entitled to their own opinions. Get over it. You served to protect their right to do so, even if they may be wrong.
3. NO ONE OWES YOU anything except what was in your service contract.
They don’t. This is the biggest problem that plagues today’s transitioning vets. You know exactly what you signed up for and hopefully were cognizant of the risk involved: physically, mentally, and emotionally. You are setting yourself up for failure if you leave the military and expect everyone to hand you everything you need because you’re a veteran. College professors will not curve your grades. Employers will not vault you to the top of the resume list. Your peers will not grant you special favors. NOR SHOULD THEY.
4. DO NOT GO OUT LOOKING FOR SYMPATHY simply because you’re a veteran.
This is a mistake and goes along with Point #3. It will debilitate your transition. It will debilitate your ability to succeed and achieve.
5. TRULY SEPARATE YOURSELF from the military.
You need to. This does not entail that you need to forget your experience, but you do need to separate the two. You probably chose to get out. So get out. Mentally as well as physically. If you got out six or seven years ago, but still have a high and tight, work out in your PT uniform, and your Facebook profile picture is still of you holding an M4 at the ready while on a patrol in Iraq, and it’s not Veteran’s Day….then you likely have a problem with this. Move on with your life. Which brings me to my next point….
6. DO NOT INSIST that your military experience completely define your future.
Do not let this happen. Even if you choose to pursue a military-related education or job, you need to create your own life outside of your military past. Do not live in your past, and do not continuously bring up the fact that you were in the military at random or irrelevant times (Also reference Point #10). Let you define you, not your past. Getting out of the military isn’t the end of your life; it’s the beginning of your individualism. You chose to leave. So leave.
7. DO NOT ASSUME that your purely militaristic leadership style will be effective in civilian life.
It won’t be. Most people will not respond well to you barking orders and getting crazy eyes. There are aspects of military leadership that will be effective, but you must evolve and acquire civilian leadership aspects as well, then successfully mesh the two. Tact, for instance, is necessary as a civilian. This will be a process, attempt to make it as seamless as possible by keeping your wits.
8. DO NOT EXPECT everyone to constantly or repetitively thank you for your service.
You shouldn’t. Believe it or not, thanking veterans is not always at the forefront of the American populace’s collective mind. Nor should it be. They are living their lives. So should you. Thanking is not a compulsory reaction. When you do get thanked, be humble.
9. BEING A VETERAN IS NOT a get-out-of-jail-free card.
You are not above the law. It is not a pass to act like a complete idiot and do whatever you want because you “were in the war.” Nor is it an excuse for your actions. You will face the consequences of stupidity just like everyone else. And you should. Don’t be that douchebag with the high and tight and affliction tee shirt that is constantly starting fights at the local watering hole. You give us all a bad name.
10. BEING A VETERAN IS NOT a trump card in debates of any kind via any platform, including those debates that are political/military in nature.
It’s not. In fact, unless it is directly relevant to the conversation, don’t even bring it up. People are allowed to disagree with you. Some people believe you’re a scumbag because you joined the military. If you choose the college route, there will be hippies who believe you’re nothing but a baby killer. On social media, you will see people with differing opinions; some will be baseless, others callous. Instead of getting those crazy eyes and starting yelling about your military past, either ignore it, or choose to participate in a logical and controlled debate. The beauty of this country is its diversity in thought.
11. DO NOT CLAIM DISABILITY unless you legitimately have a service-related disability.
You’re a fraud if you do this. You screw the American taxpayers out of money. You are no better than people who commit Social Security or welfare fraud. This goes back to Point #3. “The war” is not an excuse for your actions or a crutch. Nor should it be an avenue to collecting money you don’t need nor deserve. You are provided great benefits like the GI Bill…put it to good use. As a veteran, I and many others will simply view you as a swindler.
12. CREATE A CIVILIAN VISION of yourself and your future before leaving the military.
Prepare yourself. Create a plan to achieve and succeed. Do you want to go to college? Do you want to use your security clearance to find immediate employment? Do you want to pursue becoming an officer and go back in eventually? Do you want to start a family? Do not be “blind.” Meaning, do not just get out and have no idea what you’re going to do. If you have no civilian vision, I recommend staying in the military until you do (there’s nothing wrong with that).
The bottom line: FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF WILL ONLY HAMPER YOU. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.