November 9, 2016

What NOT To Say To A Veteran


The events that occurred during a Veteran’s military experience can leave a lasting impact. WWII Veterans, for instance, were exposed to weather elements that may have led to long-term health risks. And for many Veterans, the mental and emotional toll of military experience can be heavy.

While you may be curious about a Veteran’s experiences, here are some questions to avoid.

1. What was the most horrible thing you saw over there?
This is a topic Veterans may want to share of their own choosing, but only after trust has been established.

2. Did you kill anyone?
This question is inappropriate and may force Veterans to relive traumatic events.

3. Are you glad to be home?
Reentry from military life can be painful. Instead, ask how they’ve been doing since returning home or how they are today. Be willing to listen actively.

4. Do you feel guilty about the things you had to do during the war?
Nearly every combat Veteran will experience some guilt, such as survivor’s guilt. They may not choose to admit it to just anyone.

5. Have you seen the news?
Many people like to share the latest gruesome news about international conflict; however, Veterans have lived the news and may not wish to relive it.

6. Do you want me to pray with/for you?
Be respectful of peoples’ wide spectrum of religious and spiritual affiliations. Even those Veterans who are religious may be angry at God.

These questions may offend a Veteran or elicit negative feelings. Engage with Veterans in a more cautious and sensitive way. Ask how they’ve been doing since coming home or about their families and friends. Give them the opportunity to tell their story, without insisting and while validating their feelings. A Veteran’s sharing will likely occur over a period of time, so practice patience.

And of course, thank the Veterans in your life for their service.

Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG) is a level-four partner in the national We Honor Veterans program. Learn more about HPCG’s We Honor Veterans program here. Content adapted from We Honor Veterans’ partner resources.