We've all seen it. A grateful and sincere civilian approaches a service member in uniform out at a restaurant or in the airport and says those five words that make troops and veterans feel awkward: Thank you for your service. According a survey produced by USAA and conducted by Endeavor Analytics and YouGov half of all service members and veterans feel uncomfortable or awkward when thanked for their service.
Looking at younger military/veterans aged 18-29, nearly 70% reported feeling uncomfortable or awkward when thanked. In contrast, only 24% of military/veterans aged 65+ said that being thanked made them feel uncomfortable or awkward. "This data shows that military service members and our veterans want Americans to go beyond small talk to connect with them on a deeper level, including learning more about their service, honoring each veteran's service in ways in which they feel comfortable talking about it," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert F. Whittle, Jr., SVP, chief of staff at USAA.
A majority of service members and veterans have a directly family member who also served. On the other hand, this means that Americans without a family member who served are less likely to join the military. As a result, a civil-military gap has developed and grown within American society since the creation of the all-volunteer force. Highlighting this fact, the survey found that 28% of civilian respondents did not know or are not sure why we celebrate Veterans Day. In response to the findings of the survey, USAA is introducing the "Go Beyond Thanks" campaign.
To honor military and veterans, "Go Beyond Thanks" encourages Americans to do exactly that to create real and positive impacts on the community on Veterans Day and every day. A major aspect of the campaign is encouraging conversations about mental wellness, asking for help and veteran suicide prevention to break stigmas around such topics. To that end, USAA launched the veteran suicide prevention initiative Face the Fight with Humana and Reach Resilience. "We know that personal connection is a critical component to mental health and suicide prevention," said Katy Dondanville, Psy.D., UT Health Science Center San Antonio. "Rather than simply offering our thanks, we should be looking for ways to go beyond small talk and create more meaningful connections with veterans and better understand their service."
USAA is also going beyond thanks by teaming up with the American Legion to provide three legion posts in Las Vegas, Nevada, Noblesville, Indiana, and San Antonio, Texas with new exercise equipment centers. The survey found that veterans aged 65+ are 76% more likely than younger veterans to connect with each other in-person on Veterans Day. With the addition of the new equipment, USAA and the American Legion aim to foster connections and engagement between veterans of all ages.
"The American Legion posts are a place to serve and advocate for our veterans and the military community", said Waco Hoover, who is leading the Be The One platform for The American Legion. "A key goal of Be The One is to go further upstream than the point of crisis to identify solutions that will improve mental health and reduce veteran suicide. The installation of these exercise centers will enhance the experience of our veterans and further cement these posts as a place they can convene and remain physically and mentally healthy together."