It is common nowadays to say to a veteran or service member, “thank you for your service”. This is a far cry from the way returning Vietnam vets were treated. Even so, some veterans bristle at this well-intended phrase. 

I didn’t understand why a post-9/11 vet would feel uneasy about my show of gratitude but after spending time at Veterans Breakfast Club events and now working for the VBC, I’ve begun to understand the issue.  

Imagine being a veteran in uniform and everywhere you go you hear the same thank you from numerous strangers. After a while, the repetition can lose its meaning. The service member may wonder, “What do they really know about my service?” “What do they know about the military?” 

But if saying, “thank you” isn’t quite right, how should civilians show gratitude to veterans who sacrifice for our country? 

I’ve asked some veterans what they would like to see civilians do to support them. Here’s what they suggest:

  • Ask questions about their service. Don’t say thank you and walk away. 
  • Have a conversation about what’s going on in the military today. There are many different websites that provide good information. 
  • Vote and choose your elected officials carefully. After all, that’s one of the freedoms our military protects.
  • Finally: serve others. Respect your fellow citizens and serve the community. 
  • Make it so veterans can thank you for your service. That would help all of us be more worthy of their sacrifice.