Military veterans are one of the most important diversity groups in the country today — this was the message Pacific Lutheran University received March 20. Safe Streets and Pierce County VetCorps partnered with PLU to host a veterans’ issues meeting in the Anderson University Center to address some of the problems military veterans and their families face in Pierce County.

It opened with the reading of Anthony M. Hassan’s “I’m Coming Home,” a poem that raises the question, “What is society doing to help its troops transition to civilian life after their military service is complete?”

The overwhelming consensus: Pierce County needs to be a lot more veteran friendly.

Joanne Haffly, United Service Organizations volunteer, said, “The rest of the country forgets about our men and women in uniform. They go off to war while everyone else back here [United States] carries out their daily lives. I believe it is our responsibility to give them a leg up when they return.”

While I agree that veterans should receive every benefit the military promised them in their enlistment contracts, I don’t agree with the notion that it is society’s responsibility to give our veterans a leg up.

Before I continue, I should mention that I served five years in the Army Military Police Corps — two and half of those years in Iraq. I know what it feels like to be deployed to a place where each day holds a certain degree of ambivalence. There is no arguing the military is tough. Soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors must endure hardships that a lot of people might not be able to handle. However, they knew what they were signing up for. It is no secret that the United States was in a conflict with Iraq and is still in conflict with Afghanistan. By enlisting in any branch of the military, you accept the fact that you will likely be deployed.

The problem with expecting special treatment when exiting the military is the fact that no one asked anyone to join in the first place. If service members had been torn away from their families in a draft, forced to quit their jobs and placed in a situation where they could potentially be killed, it would obviously be different.

But just as a police officer or firefighter chooses to risk his or her life on a daily basis for the good of a community, so does the military service member. The military preaches to all of its members a set of values that it strives to achieve, one of which is selfless service. According to Merriam-Webster, “selfless” means: “having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.”

If service members truly live by this definition — and most soldiers I know do try — then they can’t expect any form of reciprocity for services rendered to their country other than what has already been promised to them in their enlistment contract, otherwise it would no longer be a selfless service.

Veterans who earn an honorable discharge already receive the G.I. Bill, which helps pay for 36 months of schooling. They are also entitled to at least one guaranteed VA home loan in their lifetime, as well as many other benefits. Non-service members are often expected to go to college or go straight into the work force and find gainful employment. They too are hard workers just trying to make ends meet. A veteran being hired over a college educated person for the sole reason that they were in the military is incredibly unfair.

However, there are instances when military members should be allowed special opportunities. If a service member is badly injured in the line of duty — loss of limb, eyesight or some other extreme physical or mental damage — then it would be acceptable for an employer to give special consideration to them when hiring, since the same care is given to civilians when they are injured on the job.

If I learned anything at the veteran issues’ meeting, it’s that the debate is ongoing. There are those who don’t want handouts, because they feel they worked too hard in the military to be given special treatment when they get out. There are also those who think that because they performed a service that others weren’t willing to do, they should be given opportunities that others aren’t entitled to.

We can decide to give handouts to veterans or treat them as equals and require them to put in the same work as everyone else. Regardless of where people stand, however, the military has a huge presence in Pierce County. As responsible citizens we can’t continue to ignore the issue, because it isn’t going away anytime soon. ◼︎

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