An Open Letter to Civilians on Veterans Day 2015 – by Jessica-Patrice D. Coulter

 In Veterans

BACKGROUND
I am a Mother, a Poet, a Yogi, and a disabled Veteran with a vagina. I have served my country, first as an active duty Chaplains Assistant, then as a military wife, then as a divorced military spouse, and finally, as a disabled veteran fighting (waiting) for over 5 years with the Veterans Administration. I finally got the rating I feel is fair, but …MAN… that was a process….

It seems that everyone these days is penning “Open Letters to (insert offensive person), as a way to educate “said person.” Well, universe, today is no different. My mother and father served in the Navy. My brother is a Lt. Col in the Army. I have had two uncles serve (one in the Air Force), three cousins, and both my grandparents. For my family, the military was a way to pay for school, serve the country, and for me, a way out of a small town. Those who serve do so for a variety of reasons

Jessica614You could say that I have seen all facets of Military life — the good, the bad, and yes, the absolute worst. I have deployed to Southwest Asia as a member of a Chaplain Support team. I have nursed my sons while in full Battle Dress Uniform in a bathroom in the back of my shop, and have supported my (former) husband while deployed over and over again  as an Aircrew member with the Global War On T error (GWOT). I stayed behind, because I ended up with a non-deployable disorder. I developed a Thyroid disease, soon after my first deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base. I also had two children, and some that I worked with accused me of getting pregnant to avoid deploying. Those accusations truly hurt, as a deployment is for a specific amount of time, children are forever.

I worked in my shop, the best way a junior enlisted (E-4 ) could, with limited staff. I supported the families left behind in war, and the Chaplains who bore the brunt of those seeking 100% confidentiality. It was an interesting  time, in my life to say the least. My best friend (also a Veteran with a vagina, and single mother super hero) deployed again and again, so, for those who say women catch a break, they don’t. War is hell. Male or Female.

I was sexually assaulted by a military police officer when I was 18, or maybe 19. Sometimes that day feels like forever ago, sometimes it’s as fresh as the almost frost on my small lawn, in the renovated projects in the most beautiful place in America, Newport RI.

Now, that you have read, and seen my military stripes, I guess I will start with:

MY OPEN LETTER TO CIVILIANS

Dear Civilian Community,

As the advertisements and recognition for military service roll across the screens of your television, tablet and smart phone, and as the sale flyers get placed in your inbox and mailbox, I would like to advise you on how you can best serve those who have served.

Do we, as veterans LOVE the FREE FOOD that day, HELL yes! Do we LOVE the free tickets to events and hotel stays, and your monetary discounts on Veterans day HELL YES! As I type, I am secretly hoping that an event for veterans I was invited too will have a spa discount for me. I have put in my time and paid my dues, and when I go to these free dinners with a male friend, I am often NOT EVEN SEEN AS THE VETERAN.

So yes, shower me with free stuff, and remind me that you care about what happens after the tarmac tear soaked reunions. Free Stuff on Veterans day feels good, even if it is a fleeting feeling, just like the food consumed.

I appreciate all of it. And the veterans who are on the brink of poverty, homeless and hungry appreciate the hot meals as well. Go to a chain restaurant and you will see young 30 -40 something vets along with 65+ vets in all states of living.

However, it is one day. 24 hours. Veterans days is one day that we flood the popular chain restaurants, and make the wait list impossible for civilians to get food. One day where we stand on the field of whatever team and feel the love. For one day we hear cheers that we as veterans of the current wars Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF)  veterans never felt as they came home from multiple deployments.

I feel that love from the NYC residents who line the streets and thank us for our service when I bring my sons to march in the NYC Veteran’s Day parade. Sometimes I fight back tears, because, again it feels good to know we are not forgotten, and people truly care.

Now, please acknowledge we are NOT looking for these accolades, and I can only speak for myself: It feels good.

For me, it makes my rape, my divorce from a military man, my battles with the VA, depression, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, the complete awful experience of divorcing the military, sting a bit less.

It is uncomfortable, but, I have learned to accept it and take it. People really care, and on November 11, they all care at the same time.JessicaDJ

Then on November 12, after that day is over, much like the day after a birthday, we all, civilians and veterans, collectively go back to the regular scheduled program called America. It is the reality of that day, like all other celebrations, it simply is.

As we prepare for Veterans Day 2015, other then posting my usual rants in my Facebook page, I wanted to go further, and share what I feel would create a sustainable effort for veterans issues. Or, maybe I just wanted to purge my inner-most frustrations being a Veteran with a Vagina. I use that phrase often, because it can be offensive to some, and as a female veteran, I am often invisible. Consider that your vagina trigger warning. It will be used going forward.

I have compiled a list of things that YOU as a never serving, maybe even diabolically opposed to military service civilian can do to show that you care. I have broken it into two sections, awareness, and action. First you must become fully aware of the state of the Veteran, in order to effectively serve the veterans.

AWARENESS:

  1. Become educated on the nuts and bolts of the Military.
    a. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard
    b. Active Duty(24/7) & Reserve and National Guard
    c. Officers(college degree to become an officer)
    d. Enlisted (non-college, or some college at time of enlistment)

A simple internet search, will help you avoid miss-naming a veteran’s service. All members of each branch have unique training, and we tend to have our own version of language, and pride from which service we came from. Just like not every GI is a Joe, not every Staff Sargent is a Solder. A great way to avoid all this is to ask
“Hey, thank you for your service, what branch did you serve in?”

  1. Leave your POLITICS and GOD at the door and research current veterans’ issues. I say GOD, because not all military members or veteran believe in God, and as a chaplain’s assistant, not all people worship the same God. I say politics, because their we get divided, and there is no room for division if you are really interested in helping veterans.

Here are some great search ideas, if the word Veteran is not on the list simply add it:
The ABCs of researching Veteran Issues:

a. Veterans Health Care Issues
b. Suicide Rates
c. Killed in Action
d. Wounded in action
e. Military sexual Trauma (males and females)
f. Unemployment
g. Women Veterans (Veterans with Vaginas have been
underserved in all these areas)
h. Housing/Homelessness
i. Alternative Healing for Veterans
j. Deployment rates
k. Average Age of Military Veterans
l. Traumatic Brain Injury
m. Average number of Medications Veterans take
n. Service Animals
o. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
p. Military to Civilian transition
q. Mental Health rates
r. Substance Abuse
s. Pain Management
t. Gulf War Syndrome
u. What not to say to a veteran
v. Long Term Care
w. Education Programs
x. Family Support
y. Survivors guilt
z. Sleep issues

Now that you know your ABCs, next time you engage with a veteran, you will have some more idea of what we face as we come back home, and try to shape-shift in a world that often has no idea what we are going through.

Maybe you have started to do your research and want to make a lasting impact, more than that 24 hours of love we call Veterans day.

Yes, now we get into Action. This is where I must put my title, if you will, on the line. I am an Alumna of the Wounded Warrior Project, and was on their national campaign team for 2014. My position on this team means that I have volunteered my image, and my story to the WWP.  www.woundedwarriorproject.org

ACTION!

So what do you do?

There are so many Organizations out there — large one like the WWP and smaller, hyper-local ones like Operation Stand Down Rhode Island — that are deserving of your assistance, time, funds and help. All you really have to do is search Veteran Service Organization online, and you will get many, many returns. I would list them, but there are so many to chose from. Again, as with any charity, do your homework and ensure they are on the up and up.

A real “boots on the ground” way to find out where the help is needed is by looking up and contacting your own state’s Office of Veterans Affairs. They will have a more tailored list and will have a more targeted need of veterans in that state, and can assist you further. You may also find your local Veterans Hospital, and find the volunteer services office, they can help you as well.

Another important aspect to helping veterans needs is matching your own personal style and passion to a charity. As a yoga Instructor, and a Military Sexual Assault thriver and a veteran with a vagina, I tend to look at organizations that serve the veteran holistically, and who help advance awareness of issues that pertain to the growing number of Women Veterans. Find one that touches you, and go in that direction.

Veterans day is a wonderful day, and as I have said it feels good to know that the country can place down its politics and celebrates the diversity that is the modern day Veteran. What I would like is a continuation, way beyond free stuff, way beyond standing ovations. Don’t take this the wrong way, we need those, as a country. We need one day to honor those who serve, from all conflicts, and there are many of them. I feel that if we really start to get to know what the issues at hand are, maybe we will can start seeing the true cost of war, and maybe that will lead to that yoga lady dream I have of a nation and a world at peace.

JessicaphotoshootorofresisonalJessica-Patrice D. Coulter, aka J9, is an Air Force Veteran, Mother, and Yoga Instructor. She is also a modern day Abolitionist, Expressive Artist and Poet. Jessica believes in the power of being who you are as you are, and lives and loves in Newport Rhode Island where she is Attending Salve Regina University studying to obtain her Masters degree in Holistic Counseling, and is working on her anticipated Sophomore project entitled #MilitantMatriarch. You can learn about Jessica’s Expressive Art and hear her debut Spoken Word album at www.jessica9names.com. You can learn more about her veterans advocacy and the power of Yoga on Netflix, in the documentary series with the Wounded Warrior Project called the Battle Back home.

Please Note: The views expressed in YSC blog posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the YSC, its directors, officers, or members.

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