A Careful Line: Entitlement and Veterans

Entitlement. Noun. The fact of having a right to something. The amount to which a person has a right. The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

Veterans and the sense of entitlement some feel is a difficult issue for a civilian to comment on. That’s why I’m glad Dave Duffy (a veteran) did in the Washington Post‘s Checkpoint military blog today:

I’m all for easing up on thanking veterans and uniformed personnel ad nauseam, eliminating most veteran hiring preferences, and having military leaders stomp out the attitude that military members veterans are better than others. Let’s focus instead on fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing business to hire the best-qualified candidates, and taking care of our wounded warriors.

I’ve been working at an outlet mall in Leesburg, Virginia for over two years. In the dark days of 2013 as an unpaid intern, I would work in DC at a think tank for free five days a week and then head to the the outlets both weekend days. I did this for six months straight. The $8/hour I made didn’t put a dent in my rent or Metro burdens, but like bailing out the Titanic with a bucket I kept at it anyway.

I still occasionally work holidays because I hate shopping (my secret: if you work at a store where you’d buy clothes you don’t ever have to deliberately go shopping). And unlike veterans, who don’t enter service for the discounts, I do work there in part to capitalize on the employee discount.

One of the more uncomfortable questions customers sometimes ask is if we offer a discount for military (or teachers.) The outlet I work in offers neither. It’s always an awkward exchange when someone asks, and then looks disappointed that they can’t shave another 10 percent off their $300 purchase of women’s clothing. Is $30 really adequate thanks? I’d rather focus (and money and time) be spent on what Duffy points out: fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs and taking care of wounded warriors.

As Duffy notes, “military-civilian relations are suffering, in part because of the attitude among some that civilians should have the military on a pedestal.” This is a critical observation–the inability of civilians (and civilian leaders) to seriously critique military affairs (whether it stems from an abject lack of understanding or the political taboo of criticizing our “heroes”) definitely contributes to broader issues with regard to budgets, strategy, and national interests.

You can both admire and appreciate members of the military, while also believing they should pay taxes like the rest of us, shouldn’t jump the line to board an airplane first or get a discount at Mattress Warehouse. Veterans, as Duffy mentions, are not a separate class of citizen. The longer we treat them as such, the bigger the civ-mil divide grows.

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