The meaning and utilization of “identity” can be simplistic, diverse, and profound. To the point that people can have adopted, and even invested in, a perceived identity, while an external perception may assign a separate identity altogether. Further, there are both the general representation of identity and the specific representations associated with demographics, political views, community involvement, cultural and religious aspects, and even military-related. It is easy to inflate the term veteran and associate that identical meaning with all persons who have served in the military. Though this is a common practice or occurrence that even other veterans can be guilty of, it is a shortsighted disservice. It disrupts the vital requirement of understanding each person’s common ground and individuality, thus threatening communication.

The diverse array of the veteran identity flavor pallet is as broad stroked as the outcomes and experiences that equate to each person’s total sum of military experience. What branch did they serve in? What job did they hold? To what rank did they achieve? What awards did they receive? Did they serve out of obligation, a sense of duty, as a sentence, for their future, to travel, avoid other ramifications, escape their family or town, or was there some other motivating factor? Did they have a good experience or a bad one? Did they survive it without sustaining moral or physical injuries? If injuries were endured, did they receive support afterward? Did they separate by choice, or were they forced out, and if so, for what reason? And ultimately, are they proud of the experience, or do they regret it?

Some veterans separate and carry their identity proudly on their shoulders. While others do not wish to relive, re-experience, or share their military/veteran-related identity. Further still, some veterans do not even know their military identity. A simple statement such as “Thank you for your service” can mean well and be met with varying degrees of internal responses that have historically all been packaged as a canned response to be polite or to navigate the complexity of veteran identity. Not all veterans like to be identified as a general category or lumped into a vague class of veterans that do not resemble their own.

How can you know? Should these topics be avoided? Is it damaging to ask? The best way to learn is to begin an open dialogue with someone. They will either be willing or not. The conversation is theirs to have, and the experience is theirs to share. To some, the conversation can be enlightening when they realize they did not before have a grasp on their own identity. To others, it can be inviting and therapeutic, but there is always the risk of someone finding the topic painful. This is why it is essential to ask and be receptive to the response, no matter what. It is necessary to try and remember that some veterans may not have talked about their experiences for years and that these experiences are so tightly woven around the individual’s identity.

This concept may have yet to be addressed, considered, or acknowledged in a previous iteration of civilization. However, in a more “woke” society, these realities that have existed since the first veteran can now be explored, addressed, and acknowledged. We will have the opportunity to decide if we will bridge the gap and invite the conversation, but do not feel bad if you choose not to be one of those people. Just remember that it speaks to your identity as well.

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