Things Not To Say To Veterans

A photo from the day I commissioned into the air force
A photo from the day I commissioned into the Air Force.

I come from a military family. My mom served, I served, and my younger brother is currently Active Duty. I also have a ton of friends and loved ones that serve or have served. Veterans. When people hear this word, they excitedly ask some of the most inappropriate and invasive questions regardless of the environment or setting. I was discussing this with my mom, brother, and a few friends. From those conversations comes this list of what bothered us the most.

1. Did you kill anyone? or How many people did you kill?
Although I never saw combat, I know plenty of people that did. It’s one of the things they won’t (or can’t) speak freely about because of how it affected them. Plus in my experience, a lot of people in Special Operations communities don’t talk about that stuff with just anyone. If you speak to a veteran and they proudly discuss all the people they killed… chances are, they are lying through their teeth. It blows my mind that folks don’t have the common sense to not bring up something that traumatic at the water cooler at work. It’s disrespectful, and absolutely none of your business.

2. Did anyone you know die?
Again, asking a service member to relive their trauma for your entertainment or to satisfy your curiosity is one of the most rude and heartless things veterans encounter. People are changed when life is lost. If you know a service member and they volunteer that information, that is one thing. They have gotten to a point where they have processed their loss, grief, and trauma. But casually asking where it happened and what they were doing at the time is in very poor taste.

3. Do you have PTSD? What happened?
I have PTSD from service, yes. Many veterans do. Why do you need to know how we got it? Would you ask if a man had erectile dysfunction because he rides bulls for a living? Nope, because it’s a really intimate and inappropriate question. If you notice a veteran you know acting differently, it is fine to ask if they are okay or how you can help. They get to choose on their terms if they want to discuss details with you. That lets them take their power back.

4. Do you know anyone that got raped?
Yes, I have been asked this many times. Sometimes people go far enough to ask if it happened to me. It is by far the question that makes me most uncomfortable. Prying into someone’s personal life on such a painful and life changing level as if it did not shake them to their very core is almost unforgivable in my opinion. A simple question can result in night terrors for weeks and flashbacks and upset that you can’t possibly want someone to have. You wouldn’t ask someone about their best sexual experience at work or at the grocery store. So why would you ask about their worst?

5. Do you know [insert name here]? They’re in the Marines.
Y’all. Let’s end this on a humorous note. All military people don’t know everybody else in the military! Especially between branches. That one usually cracks me up. Each service is huge and spread out across the globe. Sure, there’s the off chance we may have crossed paths, but it’s very unlikely unless we’re in the same career field. One of my favorites was when I was stationed in Washington. My cashier at Wal-Mart was like, “Hey, my cousin’s in the Army, too! He’s in Afghanistan right now, do you know him?”

All military people don’t know everybody else in the military!
My reaction. My face tells on me all the time!

I understand that service member’s stories are interesting. They’re unique and unlike what the rest of the population experiences. All veterans need is a little empathy and courtesy, just like anyone else. Remember: every survivor has a story, but not all stories have survivors. Think, before you ask.


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