Veterans Day 11 November 2013

As many of you know, I am a proud supporter of our military and veterans. I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices that they make and am so grateful for the freedom that they fight to defend. Last year, I spoke about the fact that many schools have opted out of celebrating Veterans Day, which I still find truly appalling, especially when they take time to celebrate Columbus Day, a day celebrating a man for bringing about the genocide of Native Americans and introducing slavery to North America (click here for last year’s blog post).

When we look at US society, what does it tell us about how we treat our veterans? Well, we celebrate by offering an optional Federal holiday (see last year’s post containing my fury over schools opting out of recognizing Veterans Day) and offering a multitude of sales for non-veterans and service members. There are those companies that offer free meals and discounts to veterans and active duty military on Veterans Day but those don’t nearly stand out to me as much as the companies that offer discounts throughout the year. Yes, Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11, but is that the only day we should thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice? HELL NO! As a rule, veterans are not looking for handouts and charity. Recognition for the service and sacrifices that they made mean so much more. Letting them know that they matter, that they may have seen and experienced atrocities that civilians cannot even come close to imagining and survived is just one of the ways in which these men and women are heroes. But even more importantly, treating them like human beings, talking to them like normal people and not some media-created scary figure that will at any moment freak out in a fit of violent PTSD.

The truth is any exposure to trauma can lead a person to suffer from PTSD. It is not something that only occurs among the military although the media over-represents military in their PTSD coverage. Not everyone with PTSD engage in violent behavior, although again our popular media over-represents the correlation between violence and PTSD. Would you stop buying ice cream in the summer months when you learn of the strong positive correlation between ice cream sales and homicide rates in the summer months? No (that is a spurious correlation ignoring the important variable of temperature and remember correlation does not equal causation). Thus we should not treat our veterans and military with suspicion because of the popular media’s skewed reporting of information.

We are not doing our veterans any favors by perpetuating the myth of the violent and out-of-control veteran. In truth, it reflects very poorly on us civilians as well because rather than embrace the men and women who sacrifice so much for our freedoms, we would rather turn our backs to them and keep them segregated from society whether it is through unemployment, homelessness, or discrimination of other forms. Being a veteran should be a badge of honor not something a person seeks to hide for fear of discrimination. Here is a blog post by Kate Holt that was posted on 6 March 2012 that is worth reading: “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold.”

We have a long way to go in our society regarding the treatment of our military and veterans. We civilians should be embracing the skills and characteristics that are honed and necessary for military service. We should remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We should help our military and veterans reintegrate into society by accepting their perspectives as valid, by acknowledging the strength they have to endure, by respecting their service and sacrifice, and by integrating them into jobs and schools. We can learn so much from these brave men and women and the fact that society chooses not to is very disappointing. As an educator, it is my duty to facilitate the learning of my students and foster the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in life. As a society, we have a duty to accept all members of society and not turn our backs on those who we ask to make the ultimate sacrifice only to revile them for their actions when they return survivors.

I try to make it a point to speak with at least one veteran a day besides my family members and friends who have and are currently serving. I try to ensure that issues that affect our troops and veterans remain at the forefront of our consciousness by sharing information about some of the amazing programs out there, including but not limited to Wounded Warrior Project, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, Operation Gratitude, and The Gary Sinise Foundation. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude for the freedom that I enjoy.

To the veterans and active-duty military I offer my most sincere thank you for your service and sacrifice. I know that I would not be here today if it were not for you and I would not enjoy the life I live if it were not for your sacrifice. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. Stay safe and be well.

Too Much Emphasis on Credentials?

Something that really bothers me about society today is its emphasis on having the correct credentials as a requirement for employment. We push and push and push for people to go to college to get that college degree and then go on to graduate school if you want to do more. Particular trades also require certificates before someone can be employed. This may sound acceptable in terms of protecting the consumer and ensuring that for example, the person working on your car has some general clue about how to fix your car, however, there is a problem with this. Not everyone can afford to acquire the appropriate credentials. Additionally, not everyone is suited for college. There is no shame in pursuing your dream and not attending college although in terms of the media machine in US society, that is the path to poverty. The fact is that there are many people with college degrees and even graduate degrees who are homeless and/or living below the poverty line. Student loan debt, lack of opportunity, outsourcing, changing technology, etc. have led to a large group of individuals who are over-educated and under-employed or even unemployed. Employers are able to be very selective about who they hire and for how long. Employers may weed out those with too much education so that they can hire someone at a cheaper wage because with all of that education comes the accompanying debt and desire for higher salary. Therefore, individuals who are considered over-qualified are just as likely as those who are considered under-qualified to be hired, and that likelihood is low. Temporary positions are created to set up the framework for employees in other countries to perform the work on a more long-term basis for a much cheaper wage. And that pulls me back to the notion of credentials. One of the difficult aspects of people who are displaced from their homes and neighborhoods due to natural and man-made disasters (super storms, hurricanes, war) may have had gainful employment along a sliding scale among neighbors but now, in a new setting cannot get the job because they do not have the appropriate certification. But this is not only the plight of the displaced, it is a growing problem for our returning veterans. We are finding that veterans who have been trained to serve as medics, helicopter pilots, mechanics, etc. are required to go through schooling about things they already know in order to attain the piece of paper saying they are certified and thus employable outside of the military. That is a ridiculous waste of time and resources. Yes, it is profitable for schools, but at what price is this profit? If our veterans are unable to afford further schooling or if such certification programs are not available in the area, what opportunities do they have? [The Daily Show had a segment regarding the specific issue of employing veterans on October 24, 2012, http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-24-2012/exclusive—economic-reintegration-for-veterans ]

For those who know me and follow me on Twitter in particular are well aware that I am a passionate supporter of our troops and veterans. I admire those who bravely served our country, sacrificing their own physical safety, emotional well-being, and family connections to do what too many of us are unwilling or unable to do. And that is why I become enraged when I see the statistics about homeless veterans, veterans living in poverty, unemployed veterans, etc. We ask these amazing men and women to offer the ultimate sacrifice and if they are fortunate enough to return from conflict, we turn our backs on them? Why should businesses be celebrated for offering jobs to veterans when that should be something that goes without question? Being a veteran should not be a reason NOT to hire someone, yet in reality it is. So much negative attention is placed on our military from the various scandals to emphasis on violent manifestations of PTSD. We rarely celebrate the heroes, those who risk their lives for their fellow soldiers and have made it home. So why is it that someone who was trained in the military and served as a medic in Iraq is considered to be not qualified to serve as a paramedic in the US? It is all due to a piece of paper, a piece of paper that society has determined to have weight above and beyond the actual knowledge, skills, and abilities of the individual.

We need to bring this nonsense to an end. We need to evaluate people based on their actual attributes and abilities and not on whether or not they were able to get a degree or complete a certification program. We need to make sure that employers actually take the time to properly train new employees. That makes a huge difference not only in employee satisfaction but in productivity and thus, profitability (to speak to the for-profit camp). This is not a new or revolutionary idea. It is common sense.