Military Personnel and Veterans Deserve Respect

Donald Trump's lack of empathy may have damaged them.

Posted Sep 11, 2020

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Source: pixabay

On September 3, 2020, an article was published in The Atlantic which has caused intense anger and disgust for many across the nation, especially those who have served in the military and their families. The article by Jeffrey Goldberg, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’,” is based on numerous interviews and has been verified by no less than five news agencies, including the Associated Press and Fox News.

Throughout his initial presidential campaign, during his presidency, and now in his second campaign, Donald Trump has displayed — through interviews, video and audio recordings, and social media — unprecedented behaviors for a president While some presidents have displayed prejudice in different ways, none has made corroborated disparaging comments about our military, its personnel, or its veterans.

Along with our colleague and partner Richard Sword (deceased), we worked well over 4 decades with many hundreds of veterans — from World War II to Afghanistan — as well as active-duty military personnel. We helped them as they suffered from military service-related post-traumatic stress (PTS). 

In the safety of our offices, they told us their stories of military service, especially the harrowing experiences that caused them to have PTS. And as they told us how it had affected every facet of their civilian lives, the tough military veneer first presented would melt away and their tender hearts and feelings would emerge. Many had received Purple Hearts for their physical wounds.

But there is no medal for mental injuries. Quite the opposite, they lived in fear that they would be discovered. Why? Because in our society, mental health issues are still considered a weakness of character, rather than a very real disability, and perhaps an eventual strength.

Military and veteran suicide rates

In recent years, the rate of veteran suicides has hovered between 17 and 22 per day; or 6,205 and 8,030 per year. This is at least 1.5 times greater than the civilian population. Active duty military rates are usually about the same as civilian, but recently there has been an increase. These facts are shared to shine a light on how the words spoken by their Commander in Chief may cause further harm to already fragile citizens suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, and suicidal ideation.

Fortunately, the day the article was published, well-known veterans took to the airwaves to speak out in defense of active-duty military personnel, veterans, and the heroes who died protecting our country in war. Former presidential candidate and Afghanistan veteran Pete Buttigieg stated, “He (the president) doesn’t understand what service is about...But even after all the disrespect that he has shown for (the) military, for prisoners of war, for Gold Star parents...there is something shocking about him...saying that he thinks those who are serving are ‘suckers’ and ‘losers.' And I feel that reverberating among my friends who served and their family members, to say nothing of the pain that this causes for those who lost somebody...This goes so deep and it cuts across any kind of political alignment.”

Iraq War veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs and partial use of an arm when the helicopter she co-piloted was hit by a rocket-propelled-grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents, said,  “He has gutted the military. He has driven down morale...the majority of the military will not be voting for Donald Trump...This is the same president that said that those military men and women that suffered brain injuries after the bombing last year — that those were just headaches — those are not real injuries.” Her advice for military personnel, veterans, and their families is to vote on November 3, but not for the candidate who degrades them.

Duckworth’s statement about military votes is corroborated by a recent poll conducted by Military Times and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families which indicate that a plurality back Biden over Trump. In 2016, Trump had a significant edge over Hillary Clinton in the same poll.

In 2006, a group of veterans formed VoteVets.org: The Voice of America’s 21st Century Patriots, through which more than 700,000 veterans, military family members, and supporters give voice to veterans. In recent months, they have called out Donald Trump on his failure to support active-duty military personnel and veterans. Votevets.org ran an ad in response to The Atlantic article in which parents of military members killed in action pushed back on Trump’s remarks, stating emphatically that their children were not “losers” but served their country proudly and honorably. 

What we can do

In our work with veterans, we learned how important it is for our warriors to feel understood and reinforced by the civilian population, and even more so by fellow veterans and active-duty military members.  

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Source: pixabay

As a collective citizenry, we can help these selfless heroes by supporting the Veterans Administration and other organizations with a focus on veterans and their families such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). We can reach out to veterans and active-duty military personnel we know — as well as their family members — to see how they’re doing and if they need anything, even just a friendly ear. And perhaps most important, we can show our support by voting on November 3.

References

Goldberg, J. (2020). "Trump: Americans who Died in War are 'Losers' and 'Suckers'." Boston, MA: The Atlantic.

Beckwith, R.T. (2020). "VoteVet ad hit's Trump on 'loser' comments." San Francisco, CA: SFGate. 

Novatny, A. (2020). "Stopping Military and Veteran Suicide." New York, NY: American Psychological Association. 

Zimbardo, P., Sword, R., Sword, RKM. (2012). The Time Cure. San Francisco, CA: Wiley Publishing.