Veteran’s Day: Am I A Vet?

I’ve received a lot of Happy Veteran’s Day greetings from military and civilian colleagues that I worked with in Iraq. I’m grateful for and humbled by the honor implied in those greetings, at the same time I’m not sure what to do with them. As a civilian war-wounded, am I a vet?

Veteran:

–noun

1. a person who has had long service or experience in an occupation, office, or the like: a veteran of the police force; a veteran of many sports competitions

2. a person who has served in a military force, esp. one who has fought in a war: a Vietnam veteran

–adjective

3. (of soldiers) having had service or experience in warfare: veteran troops

4. experienced through long service or practice; having served for a long period: a veteran member of Congress

5. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of veterans

I assume that Veteran’s Day is specifically in honor of the military, and I was never in the military. I only worked for the military. I’ve never noticed civilians among the decorated military marchers in the parades, wounded or not. I’ve never seen an article in a Vets Day edition of a newspaper reminding people of civilians serving in war zones, or of the many civilian war-wounded.

Due to the Bush administration’s push for government work to be contracted out as much and as often as possible, and due to the strong social and economic efforts instituted in Iraq and Afghanistan and staffed by State Department and DoD civilians, as many civilians have served in those countries as have soldiers. There must be at least hundreds if not thousands of civilians who have been wounded in attacks on convoys, attacks on bases. (Where are all you people?!) Yet really, I don’t think we’re considered veterans. Not by most people.

War zones are microcosms within microcosms. Our stories are not a soldier’s stories. They’re not a war correspondent’s stories. They’re not a policy wonk’s stories. Where are our voices?

Although I don’t know if I’m meant to be included in Veteran’s Day, I don’t feel as if I would be deliberately excluded. I don’t think I’d be shunned were I to pin on my civilian war service and war wound medals and show up at a parade to walk with a group of veteran soldiers. But I don’t feel invited.

I don’t think that I can comfortably say that I’m a vet of the Veteran’s Day stripe.

I celebrate anyway, on behalf of the honored soldiers, the overlooked civilians, and my happy self recovering so well from my wounds.

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4 Responses to “Veteran’s Day: Am I A Vet?”

  1. Justin Derifield Says:

    As a vet I can almost relate to what you are saying but from a different perspective. I eagerly joined the US Navy just after 9/11 because I was a young healthy adult male and I knew my country was going to need me.

    I was put into an electronics program and went through school only to end up at a small reserve command in Texas. I diligently worked my butt off in hopes of helping in anyway I could but after 6 years my number was never called to go to the war. Little did I know, somehow being at a reserve command tagged me as a reservist even though I was in the military 24/7 and worked many 12 on 12 off days, my DD 214 still says USNR on it.

    I didn’t even know I was USNR until about 3 years into my service. So now, I keep my military past under wraps and don’t talk about it much because I typically get laughed at for what others seem to observe as a “cake job” in which in no way it was. Even the VA shuns me. On one occasion, when I was trying to get approved for VA healthcare because I’m jobless and uninsured and suffer from depression, the VA rep didn’t believe me although my DD 214 was right in front of her face. She honestly thought I was some part time reservist trying to scam the VA. So instead of doing my form 10-10, I just told her I would be on my way since I was almost in tears.

    This isn’t just a runoff to try and bash the VA because I know they help A LOT of vets who would otherwise face some real adversity, but sometimes it feels like they won’t take you seriously if you have never been to war…

    As for being a civilian contractor, I just want you to know that I never met a contractor I didn’t like while I was in. We had “Tech Reps” at our maintenance facilities and I learned everything I know from them. Not to mention the fact that one of them is still one of my truly good friends and he has been on sea duty for extended periods of time for 30 years on every carrier the Navy has, on land overseas AND he was even captured by some Malaysian soldiers in Malaysia and held prisoner for a few weeks until the Navy could get him free because they thought he was a mercenary spy! You guys are incredibly valuable and I salute you and all people who have given up any of your life for the great US. Thank you.

    • Seren Says:

      Your story is really disturbing. Can you get your DD214 corrected? If I were you I’d dog that until someone corrects it for you. When I was admitted to Walter Reed they had me down as a contractor instead of DoD civilian, and it caused all sorts of problems (the least of which were some snide remarks and coldness from doctors) – reminds me of your situation, though yours could be much more problematic. Whether I was a contractor or DoD civilian shouldn’t have mattered, in my mind, because we’re all doing the job, and volunteered to help, but there you have it. That there’s a pecking order of legitimacy has always been strange to me: regular Army considers Reserves as incompetent, yet more Reservists have served longer tours than regular Army; Fobbits (REMFs) are held in contempt by the front lines yet the front lines couldn’t do their jobs without those people backing them up … etc etc, lots of examples. Maybe that’s to be expected, since the military is a paternalistic and hierarchical organization (which is functional for most things they’re doing – I’m just sayin’ …) And whether you’re regular Navy or Reserve, for the VA to hassle you is heartbreaking. I agree, they’ve helped so many vets, they’re often great … too bad that’s not consistent. I hope you’ll push and kick to get your DD214 changed, and if I were you I’d go be a thorn in the side of the VA until they treat you right. Sometimes it’s just one bureaucrat sitting in an office roadblocking, and you get past them to the good people. Well, good luck, and thanks for serving.

  2. travelswithtyger Says:

    Veterans, active and retired, know the contractors and GS civilians play an ever-increasing role in today’s military. Servicemembers would have even more hats to wear and more responsibilities to carry. I’m not sure if our civilian counterparts will ever by properly recognized, but thanks for all you do!

    • Seren Says:

      Thank you. I’m not even sure that I want or need thanks – I think that I got my share when I was an inpatient at Walter Reed, and from the thanks that I received from Iraqi citizens, but so many of my colleagues certainly deserve it and rarely (if ever) hear it. I’ll share your comment with some of them. Thanks again.

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