Going Beyond the Controversial “Thank You For Your Service”

3 Meaningful Ways to Show Gratitude to Veterans

With Veteran’s Day just around the corner, we would like to take a moment and reflect on how we can show (rather than just voice) gratitude to our Veterans. Whatever the reasons one has for joining the military—and there can be many—one thing is certain: offering your time, efforts, and often life in the service of others or a higher purpose requires courage and integrity.

In today’s issue, we will offer some more practical suggestions for assisting our Veteran community. Before exploring these suggestions, we would like to take a moment to address a commonly heard phrase: “Thank you for your service.” Often said by a well-meaning civilian, the phrase has different meanings and connotations for Veterans, making it a somewhat divisive way of showing our gratitude. Briefly, the following are some reasons why telling a Veteran “Thank you for your service” may be short-sighted (and potentially harmful):

  • General Unease: The phrase can be considered awkward to respond to, make the Veteran feel uneasy or obligated to respond, as if to not leave the civilian hanging. “It becomes more about me taking care of their feelings,” one Veteran expressed.
  • Sense of Disconnect: The phrase can also come across as shallow or reflexive, more “something to say” as opposed to a personal display of gratitude on the part of the civilian.
  • Self-Serving: Sometimes, the phrase can come across as self-serving. In other words, it may be said to make the civilian feel good about having “thanked our military,” without giving thought to the specific person in front of them.
  • Potentially Triggering: In the worst cases, the phrase can be triggering to Veterans. By “thanking them” for their service, it may bring back specific painful instances or events for which the Veteran feels he or she should not be thanked. This can potentially lead to activation of trauma symptoms which the veteran may be attempting to work through.

That is not to say it is wrong for civilians to thank Veterans, but showing gratitude can take many forms. Words and posts on social media, while likely done with good intentions, are among the least actionable ways to do so.

Since the COVID pandemic, veteran unemployment has tripled, and preliminary reports indicate that military suicides have increased by 20 percent compared to the same period last year. In interviews conducted by Dr. Ja’net Bishop (doctor of education, former certified school principal and counselor, and former veteran, herself), Dr. Bishop explores our views of these often forgotten or looked-down-upon veterans. Dr. Bishop reminds us that “We should support these veterans by not dismissing their service. Despite [their current circumstances], there was a time when they set aside their own lives to serve this country and it shouldn’t be forgotten.” This often omitted side of Veteran’s Day may be more difficult to look at, but is nonetheless equally important as we consider additional ways in which we can show our gratitude:

  • Sharing Veteran resources and/or promoting organizations: As you consider what to post on your social media this upcoming Veteran’s Day, perhaps including helpful resources and organizations which work to serve Veterans may be more useful than kind words or patriotic pictures.
  • Send a Personal Letter to Veterans Serving Abroad: Did you know that you could send a personal letter to a veteran currently serving abroad, someone who may not have the same familial or relational support others are afforded? Follow the first Resource link below to learn how you or a loved one can help provide unique, free support to a veteran or active service member in need.
  • If Possible, Make a Donation or Increase Military Discounts: Making a moderate donation to a veteran-assistance program or organization can go a long way. Examples of such organizations are also listed below. Additionally, for small business owners, increasing military discounts (which often only include Active-Duty Military Personnel) to all Veterans who have served is another avenue toward thanking Veterans that is often overlooked.

Hopefully, our suggestions can spark additional ideas on showing gratitude through action. Below, you will find a list of websites and organizations dedicated to helping Veterans and their families, as well as books for adults and for kids touched by military life. You can use these resources for your own information or share with the Veterans and their families in your community.

Continue to Resource List

Author: Dr. Ryan Daniels

Dr. Ryan Daniels earned his Master’s Degree at the Derner Institute for Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University, Garden City, NY, and his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL. Dr. Daniels has written articles and served on the board of numerous mental health organizations, such as the Florida chapter of Active Minds—an organization dedicated to reducing mental health stigma among teens and young adults.

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