Listening to Our Veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, November 11th, we’ve dedicated this month’s blog posts to our country’s veterans.   

We’ll try to provide context for the common challenges faced by our veterans in order to better provide support, where possible.

Veterans Day isn’t just a day to acknowledge our country’s veterans. It’s a time to honor them and one way of doing that is by listening to their stories and the advice they share on how to help them and each other. Luckily, there is no shortage of opportunities to do just that.  There were a number of ceremonies and discussions that took place in the Anchorage area on Monday, but there were also numerous radio broadcasts that also contributed to a national dialogue about veterans’ issues.

One such broadcast on KSKA came from The Takeaway. It was entitled, “Advice for Veterans from Veterans,” but it wasn’t just for veterans. It was for any listener wanting to help a veteran and it provided some truly valuable insight.

Don’t Pry

A key message that came from that broadcast was not to push too hard or pry too much when talking to a veteran. If you are asking a veteran questions, particularly about their time in service, pay attention to how they are responding. If they seem uncomfortable, change the course of your conversation. Don’t push them to talk about those things that might make them uncomfortable. And, really, at the core, this is about listening. Listening is not just about hearing what someone is saying to you it’s how they are saying it and what their body language is telling you.

This got us thinking a lot about what listening really is, and what it means, particularly in the context of providing support to our veterans. As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones thinking about this.

Two years ago, Paula J. Caplan wrote a piece in the Washington Post about this very thing and the information she shared is certainly relevant today. She pointed out that the majority of veterans suffer ample feelings of isolation after returning home from service and that listening is a way of bridging the gap and helping to mitigate those feelings. Often, veterans don’t offer up their tales from service for three reasons:

  •  They don’t want to upset civilians
  • They are afraid we will think they are mentally ill
  • They fear that we won’t understand and that distance they feel from the community will grow.

She also discussed why civilians don’t tend to ask:

  • They fear they won’t know what to do in a conversation
  • They believe that only professional therapists know how to heal those veterans who are experiencing a whole range of emotions.

But, Caplan makes the point that the simple act of listening can be profoundly healing.

In fact, there are entire organizations dedicated to listening to veterans. Listen to Veterans.org is one such organization. People all over the country can become a listener. We encourage you to think about signing up. But in the meantime, many of the veterans and listeners have talked about what their experience with Listen to Veterans has been like. They expressed gratitude for certain qualities of their sessions:

  •  Being able to speak without being interrupted by questions
  • Having an interested listener
  • Not being judged for what they’ve said or done
  • Not having to filter their words
  • Being able to speak about anything in any order, without boundaries on the conversation
  • Connecting simply as human beings

Regardless of whether you decide to participate in a program like this or if you seek a conversation with a veteran, these qualities are important to remember.

Also, if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of our veterans and don’t have the ability to listen to someone directly, you can listen to their stories through the Veterans Listening Project.

So, next time you thank a veteran, consider opening the door for them to speak. Let them know you will listen.  And isn’t that what we all want? To be heard?

 

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