Okay. It should come as no shock to anyone that has ever had a conversation with me longer than five minutes that I have very, very strong feelings about a lot of things. One of my push button issues is veterans’ rights/veterans’ affairs. In addition to the fact our veterans should never, ever have to fight for housing, medical care, jobs, or anything really, because they spent more than enough time fighting for us. In addition to it just being the right thing, it’s especially a sensitive topic because of my Old Man. I know I’ve addressed in the past how my Old Man is my hero. And it’s for oh so many reasons – not the least of which (perhaps chief of which) is that this man is everything a man should be – smart, compassionate, hardworking, loving, kind. Okay. I’ll stop waxing poetic about my Old Man. But because of him, because of the way he and my mom raised me, and perhaps because I’m one of the biggest empaths I know, I often get so, so, SO militant about veterans’ affairs.
One of the things I remember from early on in my adolescence/not-childhood is my parents talking about the legal drinking age (bear with me, there is a correlation). It was probably when I was around sixteen or so. My mom said, “I don’t agree with the drinking age being 21. But it is. So don’t be dumb” (I paraphrased that). She followed up with, “It doesn’t make sense that at 18 you’re old enough to go off and fight and die for your country, but you’re not old enough to have a beer. … But it’s still the law, so still obey it.” I come by my soapbox standing naturally.
Sixteen is the earliest I remember thinking about veterans’ issues. I had a very (very, very) superficial understanding that my dad is a veteran. That he is a Vietnam Veteran. To a certain extent, not being a stupid person, I understood that the Vietnam War was a supreme clusterfuck of fucked up-ness (no, I didn’t address it as such when I was 16). But, as one might imagine with a sixteen year old, I didn’t fully understand just how fucked up it really was. Now, at thirty, I still don’t fully understand – and being an empath I never will – but I certainly know more about the history of before, during and after.
This is a super long lead in.
I recently had a conversation with a gentleman who is also a Vietnam vet. While not homeless per se he’s a great distance from having reliable and affordable housing. He doesn’t have a job – he’s living off SSDI. At one point following his return from Vietnam he had a union job. Said union substantiated all the gripes people have about unions. They forced him to vote one way and when he spoke up they silenced him. Accepting that unions have done an immense amount of good, I also accept that they have a lot of areas of opportunity. Forcing anyone, but particularly a veteran, out for speaking his or her piece? I call shenanigans.
I’m not someone who could work in social services or veterans’ affairs. I’m too empathetic and too depressed to put myself in a situation where I would feel all the feels. But, goodness gracious, I wish there was a way I could help my dad, this gentleman I’ve been speaking with, my brother, any and all vets. They’ve given me so much, they’ve given all of us so much. Why must they jump through so many hoops to have a modicum given back to them?
Having talked with this gentleman, my brother, my Old Man, other men and women I know who have served – the men and women who have served aren’t looking for a handout. They’re not assuming or asking for free housing for life, free food for life, guaranteed jobs for life. In fact, I’m fairly certain if you offered any of the above most veterans would be insulted (for sure the veterans in my life would be). But a hand up isn’t the same as a hand out. Why aren’t we, as a society, as a community, doing everything in our power to give our veterans a hand up?