“Thank you for your service.” It’s a term so many of us veterans hear, often, especially around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day. But it always makes me uncomfortable. I’m proud I served in the U.S. Marine Corps, but I did my job. I signed up. I did my duty. I did and saw things that an ordinary civilian probably can’t understand. So hearing thank you is jarring for me. And I’m not alone in feeling that way. A survey found that almost half of all veterans join me in that feeling.
The phrase “thank you for your service” often comes from a sincere desire to express support for the military and veterans. Some might even say it comes from guilt—perhaps because they didn’t serve in the Armed Forces while I did. Or because society still remembers with shame how badly it treated Vietnam veterans when they came home.
They want to do better by our generation of post 9/11 veterans and honor other veterans. So they say thank you. I appreciate the sentiment. But I also wish that they knew the “right” words to say, and understood the military/veteran culture that my head is still tightly melded around, even all these years later. Many of these people want to help veterans. They often have veterans in their own families and know veterans in their communities. Yet all too often, “thank you” results in a disconnect between us. It shows civilians don’t know what to say to a veteran or how to broach the subject of service. It shuts down the conversation rather than creating a pathway for a true connection. And I’d like to see us get past that disconnect. One way to do that is for providers and people who want to assist veterans to learn about military/veteran culture. They will begin to understand the layers of service: the unique experiences, the possible trauma, the avenues to services and benefits. They can find the right language to use when asking about mental health or disability benefits assistance or a host of other topics.
They just need some tips and education. That’s where Toolbox.vet comes in. Compiled by Swords to Plowshares, Toolbox.vet is an online curriculum for providers and advocates that gives them the necessary tools to more effectively serve veterans and their families. Content on Toolbox.vet is broken up into 10 chapters. The first chapters provide a foundation of the veteran experience: the history of veterans advocacy (it hasn’t always been easy), military/veteran culture, veteran mental and behavioral health, and physical health conditions.
The later chapters cover considerations for veteran access to care and benefits, as well as approaches to serving veterans through trauma-informed care and designing spaces and services to welcome veterans. Supporting unhoused veterans, education benefits, employment and training services, and administrative best practices when assisting veterans provide key information that advocates can use. In short, it’s like someone distilled all the knowledge from 40+ years of veterans advocacy into one online curriculum that is easy to navigate, loaded with audio and video clips featuring real veterans and experts talking about how to effectively assist veterans. Social workers, counselors, educators, employers, health care professionals, government workers, advocates, providers, and community leaders are all people who can benefit from using the resources available on Toolbox.vet. As part of the curriculum’s rollout, we’re hosting a series of monthly webinars.
America’s longest war will end soon in Afghanistan, but reckoning with the impact of those wars will stretch decades into the future. So many Americans want to help veterans. Toolbox.vet can take providers and advocates far beyond a thank you, and help them establish true points of connection with the veterans they want to serve. Visit www.toolbox.vet to learn more.
Victor Inzunza is a Policy Analyst with Swords to Plowshares, where he presents Combat to Community® cultural curriculum and provides outreach and technical assistance to other community-based veteran services agencies. He spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and is an OIF veteran who served two tours of duty in 2003 and 2004.
Andi Martinez, MHA
Veterans Experience Office (VACO)
Partnerships and Agreements
Department of Veterans Affairs
Disclaimer: The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products or services on behalf of VA