SEVEN THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO A VETERAN
1. “Thank you for your service, but I don’t think we should have been there in the first place.”
All that’s needed is, “Thank you for your service.” Anything more shows that you really are more interested in what you think, and that you think your opinion is of more importance than everyone else’s.
Everyone has an opinion about the war but not everyone wants to hear it, says Ryan Kules, an Army veteran who spent 18 months at Walter Reed recuperating from wounds. People often use him as a sounding board for their take on the war.
“People should recognize their opinion is a personal view and not necessarily an appropriate thing to share with someone who has obviously physical injuries from a conflict,” says Ryan Kules. This is especially true in the workplace.
2. “Is it worth it?”
People should understand that this is a multifacted question. The soldier and his family has done extensive research into the history of the region, the cultural differences, the needs, and also the politics. It is a highly subjective question, and usually the person who asks this has already made up their mind irrespective of the experience or education of the person they are addressing.
3. “Are you a lesbian?”
Don’t even ask what a newly returned veteran thinks about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s a deep conversation, and you might find yourself pulled into a direction you don’t want to go.
The idea that all women in the military are lesbians is not only archaic but it also plays into stereotypes, says Delilah Washburn, president of the National Association of State Women Veterans. A person’s choice about being out about orientation remains that–that person’s choice. Don’t assume and don’t be rude.
4. “You’re too rigid to deal with sudden changes.”
No one has asked you to get personal. Don’t ascribe personal attributes solely to being a soldier.
Because service members are forced to adhere to a rigid schedule, many civilians assume they are unable to think outside the box or adapt quickly. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Many veterans are among the most adaptable employees around.
“Former military have a resourcefulness, an adaptability to change,” says David Casey, a former U.S. Marine who is now vice president of workplace culture and chief diversity officer for WellPoint, No. 44 in The 2009 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. And despite standard operating procedures set in the military, “things never go as planned, and you have to accomplish your mission in all kinds of environments. The ability to be able to adapt is very important, especially in today’s corporate environment,” Casey adds.
5. “Do you have post-traumatic stress disorder?”
Unless you’re a qualified treatment specialist being sought out for help with PTSD, don’t ask. You might want to say: “I’m glad you’re back home.”
“If you are talking to someone about their injuries, then the best way to ask this is to let the veteran volunteer this information him or herself,” advises Kules.
6. “What’s the worst thing that happened to you over there?”
Do you really want to hear it? And why? Are you going to repeat it, blog it, twitter it? Use it for your own means? What happened is so deep, dark and personal. Many times it was life changing. This isn’t a topic for casual conversation, and again –you may find yourself in rougher waters than you’re able to cope with.
To non-veterans, this seems like a harmless question, but it’s inappropriate, especially in the workplace. “This is like asking someone, ‘What’s the worst day of your life? Tell me in detail’–no one wants to do that,” says Kules.
7. “Have you ever killed anyone?”
Just say, “I’m glad you’re home. Welcome back.”
This question invades the veteran’s privacy and it forces him or her to possibly relive painful memories. “The person asking this question doesn’t have any idea how the veteran may feel about the situation,” says Kules.
Washburn adds that this inquiry brings into question a veteran’s morality. “This goes deeper than an issue of sensitivity. There are things like faith-based value systems that make this question very personal,” says Washburn. “There should be some barriers.”