As I zip through the halls of the VA, I pass the men and women of almost forgotten wars. I see the proudly displayed “Korean/Vietnam/Gulf War… veteran.” On rare occasions, one might spot the lingering survivors of WWII. As I am under 40, I zip through the halls, the pain and suffering unknown to the onlookers. I am not missing limbs, I do not need oxygen, a wheelchair, or other assisting devices. I zip through and around the hobbling and limping survivors of wars almost forgotten. As I zip and pass, there’s always a nod or a quip to one another, the tipping of the hat from one generation of warriors to another.
As I sit in waiting rooms I listen and engage with those of the almost forgotten wars. I revel and laugh at how different and yet similar our experiences are. I sit, baby-faced compared to what wanders the halls, almost in guilt. Something that has lessened over the years, but still exists.
In over two decades of war during GWOT, I know we exist. I was not even an early bird to the fighting. I matured enough to sign on the line almost halfway through. I know there exists the GWOT generation of VA veterans, I sit and bitch and moan with them quite often over a few too many fermented beverages. I see a fellow baby-faced veteran almost as often as I see a WWII hat. I zip and pass through the halls, nodding and exchanging quips, talking and laughing with those of wars almost forgotten. I do all this as they bestow upon me great knowledge only age and experience can bring, along with endless amounts of bullshit and fables so unbelievable you know they are true.
I have to wonder how many of them, decades ago, were fresh-faced wandering the halls as I do now. I wonder how many aged into the stereotypical VA veteran. What I do know, a lot of them never came when they were young and dumb. They were like me, too proud, too naive, too whatever to accept “handouts.” They aged into being a VA veteran, having to have fought tooth and nail for the scraps of decency and support they now have, that they have long deserved.
I zip and pass through the halls only because a Vietnam veteran happened to hold my key to separation. He looked at me and told me not to be stupid, to listen to experience–to get nothing more or less than what I deserved for serving and sacrificing. That help was not a handout. That we DESERVED the help. A word that still does not fully sit with me, and yet I preach to others that they deserve what they get and more. I preach it to those who stood next to me in the fury of war. I tell them they deserve something I myself do not feel deserving of. In time, I might age into a VA veteran. I might limp and hobble the halls while the youthful zip and pass me by with a nod or quip.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.