Life in the military is fantastic, but being a lifer isn’t for everyone. One of the greatest pieces of legislative success for the veteran community was the creation of the GI Bill. It opened the door for countless veterans to finally spread their wings and get a leg up in the civilian marketplace, rewarding their service with a launchpad.
Because of the GI Bill, many civilians who went straight to college from high school have their first interactions with a veteran. And it’s a good thing. You’re both in school, so there’s some common ground — thus helping bridge the ever-growing civilian-military divide. However, not all civilians approach veterans with the best opening lines.
The following are questions and comments that make veterans grit their teeth almost immediately.
1. “You’re a vet. What’s your opinion on the war/politics/the latest hot-button issue?”
In a smaller, more intimate setting, it’s fine to ask us about our opinions on things. Hell, we’re kind of known for making 30-minute-long rant videos from the front seats of our trucks.
But putting us on the spot in the middle of a classroom discussion is not cool. If the conversation is clearly leaning to one side, you’re setting the veteran up to be the enemy for standing up for anything military related. Ask this question and you’re either going to get an extremely heated debate or a completely zoned-out vet.
2. “Why are you going for X degree and not something in security?”
The great thing about the GI Bill is that it can be applied for any college degree course. If the veteran wants to get out and follow their childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian, an artist, or whatever — more power to them. They earned that right by serving their country.
Bringing up the fact that they’re going to be making far less money by doing what they love as opposed to doing what they did in the military all over again isn’t going to make that realization any easier.
3. “So, like, did you see some bad stuff over there?”
Ranger Up hit this one on the head perfectly. No veteran wants to talk about that kind of thing with some random stranger they just met. Either they didn’t and harbor some guilt over the fact that they didn’t share the same burden as many of their brothers, they’re dealing with very real, resulting stress in a highly personal manner, or they’re going to overload the curious civilian with the grim details they actually don’t want.
After months of friendship, a veteran might be willing to open up about what happened out there — probably over a beer or seven — but never when it’s said in a half-joking manner.
4. “Why are you veterans so…”
Offensive? Overly polite? Loud? Reserved? Drunk? This one is a catchall for the wide spectrum of awkward questions that lump veterans into a single box.
Veterans come from literally all walks of life, from every place in the United States (and abroad), and are made up of the same folks that make up the rest of the population. Pretty much the only unifying thread that can be accurately applied to every single veteran is that we’re comfortable in bad situations.
5. “It’s alright bro. You got back in one piece!”
Post-Traumatic Stress is called an invisible wound for a reason. Vets who live with the pain of what happened back in the day won’t easily show it and walk around wearing a happy mask around people they don’t know.
Just because that veteran made it back alright doesn’t mean that their buddy did, too. Even if that veteran wasn’t anywhere near the front line, saying something so ignorant trivializes the experiences of troops who didn’t have the same luxury.
6. “You’re not one of those crazy vets who’ll snap at any moment, right?”
Here’s a piece of news for you: If you compare the veteran population average to the civilian average in terms of homicides and other violent crimes, veterans are actually less likely to commit such acts.
In fact, veterans with combat experience who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress are, once again, far less likely to commit violent crime than the average civilian. So, no, I’m not going to snap — are you?
7. “I would have joined, but I came here instead”
The veteran you’re talking to signed up and now they’re in the exact same boat as you! Except instead of having student-loan debt, they’ve got a few more years of life experience on you.
The reason this statement bothers veterans is that there’s an underlying assumption here that veterans are uneducated or that they wouldn’t have been able to get into college without Uncle Sam’s help. Oh boy, is that wrong. Fun fact: The ASVAB, the test required by all troops to qualify them into military service, is actually much more difficult than the college SAT or ACT.
The absolute lowest ASVAB score that will allow you to enlist is 31, which means you must be in the 69th percentile of scores among the general population. When SATs were graded out of 1600, the 69th percentile was roughly a 950 — which gets you into about 2/3rds of all universities and colleges around the country.
8. “You don’t look like a veteran”
Just like the “lumping all veterans in one box” comment, this one implies that there’s this singular build for all troops. Well, there are skinny troops, there are fat troops, and there are muscular troops. There are troops of every race, religion, and creed. It’s the uniform and hair-cut standards that make us all alike.
But as bad is this one is for most troops, it’s almost always flung at our sisters-in-arms. Even though women make up 17 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, male civilians tend to act shocked when they learn that a female served. It’s belittling.
9. “You’re so lucky you got the GI Bill”
Wrong. And f*ck you. That’s not how it works. Luck had nothing to do with all the hard work it took to serve in the military the minimum of three years required to get 100% access to the GI Bill. Luck, in my opinion, is being born into a family where mommy and daddy can pay for everything — but that’s none of my business.
If you want to be technical, a lot of veterans still take out student loans to help make ends meet. The GI Bill pays for a lot, but it doesn’t pay for everything.