The country celebrated Veterans Day last week, and for many well-meaning friends and family, it was a chance to thank me for serving in the Army. Like many soldiers, I’ve struggled with how to react to “Thank you for your service.” I never know what to say; I don’t quite know the best response to someone showing me gratitude for something I did voluntarily.
I’m not the only veteran with who struggles with “Thank you for your service”. Other veterans have have similar troubles, or incongruous reaction, when faced with the expression of gratitude from strangers. Some veterans feel uncomfortable with this response. Others just don’t know what to say.
This being On Violence, I also have a slightly darker take. By thanking a soldier for their service, or in some cases even shipping care packages or putting a sticker on your car, many Americans can avoid making tougher sacrifices during war. (I would also say that many of the the links above get at this feeling without bluntly saying it.)
By thanking a veteran for his or her service, by saying those words, you let yourself off the hook for any other action that could meaningfully help veterans. And I believe people thanking veterans do it with the best of intentions...but if it ends at “Thanks”, then we haven’t really moved the needle. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone.) Think of it this way: it is one thing to thank your wife for making dinner; it is another to do the dishes afterwards.
So, in honor of Veterans Day last week, here’s a great way you can move the needle and provide meaningful change:
Comment on the VA plan to renovate the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Campus (West LA VA Campus for short).
In news to me, the West LA VA Campus is not actually VA property. It was deeded to the veterans of Los Angeles county. While this seems like a local issue, it is really about the future of how the VA serves veterans nationwide.
The background. A few years back, a class action lawsuit was filed by Los Angeles veterans against the VA for misuse of the campus and property. The key issue is that (roughly) the land was donated to veterans not to the Veteran’s Affairs Department. The main issue was that extended leases on the property benefitted either the rich (Brentwood residents), powerful (students at the Brentwood school) or or influential (UCLA), without benefiting or even helping veterans. In 2015, Secretary of the VA Bob McDonald signed a settlement agreement that formed a non-profit group, Vets Advocacy, to address the issues on the West LA Campus.
Fast forward to 23 days ago, when the Veteran’s Affairs Department revealed their plans to update the campus and fix the issues. Of course, the government doesn’t do things simply (their plan is 900 pages long) or conveniently (so they only allowed 45 days of public comment), and now local veteran leaders are trying to spread the word. These leaders (from several groups I am a part of including the Veterans in Film and Television Los Angeles and others) want veterans to read the plan and a different plan written by Vets Advocacy.
So take a moment and spread the word about the #VATheRightWay. Comment on the plan, especially if you are a veteran. Learn about the issue. And again, spread the word.
That’s how you thank a veteran.