You may have noticed that this year’s Veteran’s Day was a little different. Post-traumatic stress syndrome has become part of the lingua franca. Few informed citizens deny the psychological impact of deployment on returning veterans. At the same time, a new movie, Thank You for Your Service, is opening in theaters nationwide, dramatizing the experience of several soldiers’ difficult reintegration to civilian life. Many civilian Americans feel strongly about honoring our vets. But our heightened awareness of the deeper impact of deployment has taken the most accessible expression of gratitude—thanking a veteran—and cast doubt on its efficacy. This Veteran’s Day was different because a lot of us are starting to wonder if a simple “thank you” might be worse than meaningless.
Veterans, for their part, have long expressed discomfort with these hat tips of appreciation. “It can be frustrating to be thanked for my military service for a few reasons, but often it’s because there’s no easy, conversational response,” Kevin Ball, a United States Army veteran, told Task and Purpose, a veteran-focused site. “I can’t just say, ‘You’re welcome.'”
“When asked how someone should thank me for my service, I respond simply, learn the constitution, get informed, and vote accordingly,” said Brock Young, another U.S. Army veteran. Rather than a passing “thank you for your service,” another gesture that U.S. Navy reservist Marissa Cruz advocates is “Talk to me. Ask me what my job entails, what I enjoy about the military or why I choose to serve.” Carl Forsling, a Marine vet, said, “The biggest thing people can do is do something, not say something.”
Context matters as well. One veteran who went from war zone to university seminar room—from combat to campus—discovered that the transition to such privilege jarred him. One day a classmate expressed gratitude for his service. The vet (who remained anonymous) recalled his reaction: “I was just back and I was in one of those moods. So, I said, oh yeah, what do you do to support the troops? … Do you buy a bumper sticker? Do you join a Facebook group? I was upset with the whole thing. You know, hearing about my people killing themselves. One of my friends killed himself, you know. Just hearing these people say they support the troops—when they don’t do anything actually.”