Realizing And Caring About Who We Are

by Jeremy Warneke

jeremywarneke.JPGWho or what is a United States military veteran? If you’re a veteran, you may know the answer or think you know. But do you?

According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service Report, “a veteran is defined as a ‘person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.’”

I didn’t always know that.

As Ted Puntillo, director of Veteran Services for Solano County, California, said in 2013, “Some people with an honorable discharge do not think they are a veteran because they only served for two years, did not serve in combat or were not injured in the service. Women and people who served honorably in the National Guard and Reserves are often unsure of their status." 

Another part of the problem is that some of us don’t want to remember our time in the military and/or are very protective of prying minds. This happens often with combat vets and others who had not so pleasant experiences in the military such as those who were sexually assaulted. (According to Frontline in 2013, more than half of the military’s sexual assault victims were men.)

In 2011, when I became the district manager of my local New York City community board, I discovered a fellow veteran in my midst. The treasurer of the board had served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. You wouldn’t know this by meeting him. He’s generally a reserved and soft spoken fellow. But he’s been serving on the board since 1990. So, I found it odd that the chairman at the time, who had been the chairman on and off for approximately twenty-five years and who had been a member of the board for much longer—thirty-two years—did not know that his own treasurer was, like him, a veteran.

The question is, “Why?”

Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget about our brothers and sisters.

At a meeting in November, an elected official staffer raised the issue of identifying veterans, i.e. the difficulty involved. I responded by saying that it’s difficult, but not entirely. We need to start by looking in the mirror and asking our own people, community board members for example, if they have ever served in the military. I learned that one should not ask a person if he or she is a veteran directly because most people don’t know what a veteran actually is. As stated above, that bit of ignorance included me at one point. I erroneously thought that being a veteran involved an overseas deployment of some sort.

The Bronx Borough President’s Office asks community board member applicants if they have “ever served or are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces or military,” which is the correct way to ask someone if they’re a veteran (not “Are you a veteran?”). At least in this regard, the Bronx has it together. What about you?