An Open Letter to America, From One of Your Veterans

Dear America,

Just wanted to take a few minutes to say thanks and get a few things off my chest. Life’s been a little challenging for us veterans, maybe more than we expected.

When I joined your Armed Forces, I looked around and saw a cross-section of your citizens that I never knew existed before. The brothers and sisters that I saw while I was in came from every state, every ethnicity, every religion. I saw a Caucasian from California become best friends with an African-American from Mississippi. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back on it, that was kind of amazing, you know? See, when we banded together for a common goal, where a person was from, what they liked or didn’t like, it didn’t seem to matter as much as whether or not that person could get things done. Sometimes I wonder, why can’t the rest of your communities be like that?

My reasons for joining your military were as widely different from those of my fellow service members as where we came from. To be honest, life wasn’t always so hot growing up, and maybe joining the service was simultaneously my only choice to make and the best thing that happened to me. I saw brothers and sisters who joined to pay for college, and then never ended up going to college. My fellow veterans joined because they loved you, because they wanted to get out of where they were at, because they came from a military family. Once we joined, though, we learned the values of our particular branch of service, and pretty much came to have them as our own: Loyalty. Integrity. Selfless Service. Let me tell you, once you start to believe in stuff like that, it’s really hard to un-believe it, and when you do, it leaves you in a pretty cold place. It’s hard to come back to civilian life and not see those things in the people around me who never served.

I grew up watching how veterans from my parent’s generation were treated, and how veterans from my grandparent’s generation were treated. I thank them for their service and sacrifice, but why was it so different for each of them? Things change, I get it, but come on! To have veterans of WWII revered, Korean War veterans forgotten, Vietnam veterans reviled, and Gulf War veterans forgotten again…really? They joined your military, just like I did. Are we going to keep the cycle going? How will your people see me and my brothers and sisters in fifty years? If how I see things going now is any indication, it’s probably going to be a mix of all of them!

Do you know why I love you so much? Because I saw firsthand what it was like to live in a place that was NOT you. Some of it looked like it really sucked, to put it mildly, and I couldn’t wait to get back to you. They say that you don’t really appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore, and that’s certainly true; your military sent me to places that really opened my eyes on that point. There were some really great places, and I thank you for sending me to them; there were also some really crappy places, and it’s harder for me to thank you for sending me there. What I do thank you for is sending me to those crappy places with my brothers and sisters…that made it a whole heck of a lot easier.

Your leaders sent me to combat, but I don’t really hold that against them. I know what I signed up for, and if I didn’t, I figured it out pretty quick. It didn’t much matter which political party was in charge, I seemed to get sent to someplace where someone shot at me, so who was in the White House didn’t bother me all that much. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics…I kind of really am, to tell you the truth, because my job was very much an extreme extension of politics…but who my Senator was seemed to matter a whole heck of a lot less than who my Battle Buddy was. I was somewhat more concerned about who was playing in the World Series or the National Championship than which laws were being passed in Congress. I know I can’t speak for all of my brothers and sisters, but it seemed like there were a lot more important things that were going on, and sometimes I just needed a break. That being said, though, I would appreciate some assistance on that front, even if it is making sure that things are in place so I can receive what I was promised when I joined your military.

So I guess the reason I’m writing this letter to you, America, is to kind of let you know where I’m coming from, and to ask for a few favors.

Just give me a shot at the American Dream. I don’t want the nice house, good job, peaceful life served up to me on a platter. I wouldn’t feel like I’ve earned it if you just give it to me, and I’m used to working for what I get. I don’t want a handout, but I also don’t want to be left out in the cold…literally. While I love your cities and towns, I don’t love them so much that I want to live on their streets all the time. While I love the idea of justice and fairness, sometimes it’s hard for me to readjust from how I had to think when I was overseas to how I know I need to think here at home, and experiencing fairness and justice from behind bars just adds more challenges on top of what I’m already having. To be honest, I didn’t really brush up on my interview skills, or resume writing, because I was kind of too busy doing the other stuff you needed me to do. So all I’m asking for is a little bit of consideration.

Don’t let my fellow citizens treat me like a scared rabbit or wounded bird, or worse, like a rabid animal that everyone needs to run away from. Being coddled or marginalized would irritate the crap out of anybody, but it burns me up particularly. My experiences don’t define me, and the Purple Hearts, TBI, and mental health diagnoses of my brothers and sisters don’t define them. I want to survive, and thrive, in spite of what I did and what happened to me, not because of what I did and what happened. I really do need help sometimes, real concrete help in the form of medical services and mental health services, not in the form of another fishing license or commemorative license plate. But just because I need help sometimes, and it’s hard to ask for that help, doesn’t mean that I am a crazy combat vet or system-dependent leech on the taxpayer’s dime. It means some of the stuff that happened screwed me up, and I might need some help getting unscrewed up.

So thanks, America, for taking the time to hear me out. I love you, and wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else. I’d just like the opportunity to have my life and my family’s life be just a little bit easier than it was in the past, and if there’s any way you could help make that happen, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Yours truly, A Veteran

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Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.

12 thoughts on “An Open Letter to America, From One of Your Veterans

  1. I think everyone, not only veterans should read this letter to gain some insight to our military.

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  3. Duane, your letter is outstanding. It’s message and tone are spot on and it is delivered in a humble and sincere way. I come from a military service tradition in my family. My father served in WW II at Iwo Jima, then later in Korea, my brother was a marine like Dad who left as a Captain during peacetime, and I served in the Army across the1st Gulf War period – leaving service in 2003 after 21 years, also as a Maverick Captain.

    What you said about how Americans perceive veterans from the different periods is so true. Many Americans DO GET IT and do a great job at recognizing all servicemen and servicewomen. But unfortunately most do not. They frame the veteran in terms of how they frame the war in their perception.

    We all know this is totally unfair – since all of them answered the same call and served their country with honor – unconditionally. Thank you for putting that into words.

    I also think you did a fine job of explaining what you are looking for in terms of understanding as to what you are going through – it was bravely written. Thank you for taking the time to share your story, to share your thoughts, and leave all of us with a little more insight.

    Like you, I love America and my fellow Americans. I am proud I served and I wish to be from nowhere else in the world. While we did not serve together we both are from the same family – you are my brother.

    I wish you all the best life can offer, a future filled with healing and opportunity, and the knowledge that many do understand you, accept you, and we stand by you. Hold your head up high son – you earned it.

    God Bless You.

    Thank You For your Service – and being one of the reasons I AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN.

    1. Dale, thanks for the comment and the support. This letter is a culmination of many of the common views I’ve heard from veterans I’ve worked with; I’m glad to know that it resonated with you as well.

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  5. Duane, I have been away from your blog for too long!

    I’m gearing up for another round of BlogStart for Therapists and came looking for your great examples of meaty blogging that I always find here.

    Thank you for being a beacon of light to so many of our warriors both here and abroad.

    Also, I stumbled across your Resource Page and found The Warrior Awareness and Accountability Log!

    What a great tool!

    I so appreciate the work that you and your colleagues do to turn the tide for so many who have and are working so hard to keep us free and safe!

    Blessings to you on your journey!

    1. Thank you for your support and kind words! I appreciate the feedback, it’s always helpful to understand that we’re not shouting into the void. Hopefully others will find my work helpful along their journey.

      1. Your perspective is very similar to my own ideas of what it must be like to come home from the war… at least for the one in five cases from the mental hospital. Twenty percent suffer PTS. I think we need to leave off the Disorder part because the hope is that it is not always lifelong like my disorders bipolar, OCD and Panic Anxiety. I have a degree in pharmacy and two years certification recovery specialist for mental health but i found the most helpful and kind coworkers in my life were at a library where I was part time 15 years. They were ordinary heroes who treated me like everyone else, just a little more direct and a little more charitable and good advice givers.

  6. Very well said, i agree with everything. I fight everyday to help Veterans get through the crap the VA puts them through. Until we demand it stop, these Heros will never receive the care and services they were promised and deserve.

  7. Thank you for writing this! Well thought out and said. It’s starting a dialogue that is way overdue. I don’t believe the VA will address this at all – because they cannot.We have begun our own research on the Moral Injury and are starting to openly discuss it at our retreats. Our warriors have those “aha” moments and tell us THIS is more of what they struggle with, instead of PTS.Keep up the amazing work and keep sharing. Thank you!

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