Ten things you should be asking the veterans in your life

Jeff Severns Guntzel
Senior reporter
Public Insight Network

Yellow ribbons and a ‘welcome home’ sign await 75 National Guardsmen returning to Davenport, Iowa, from Iraq in November 2011 after a yearlong deployment. [Photo by Mira Oberman | AFP/Getty Images]

There are as many ways to experience and process war as there are people who fight them.

Many veterans speak of feeling disconnected when they return home from military life and combat zones. It’s not surprising: Life at war — and even military life outside of combat — is a different existence from life at home. Bridging those differences, where they can be bridged, begins with conversation. With questions and answers.

We’re asking veterans (and, in some cases, their friends and families) about the questions people ask when they learn about their military experience. What do they wish people would ask?

Here’s some of what we heard:

1.) Susan Sutherland-Martin, who lives in Damascus, Ore., is not a veteran. She is mother to one Marine and mother-in-law to another. The question she’d like people to ask them: “Any question.” she says. ”In my experience, most people have tuned out the fact that we are at war. It doesn’t touch them and they are not interested.”

2.) Air Force veteran Johnny Schmidt (Seattle) wants people who have never served to ask him how they can support the troops. “Because yellow magnetic decals are not helping,” he says.

3.) Iraq veteran Robert Brandt (Harrisburg, Pa.) was one of a handful of veterans who wanted to be asked, “Would you do it again if you had the choice?”

More than a few veterans wanted questions about benefits — including disability pay, pensions and education benefits.

4.) They wanted to be asked if they were getting what they needed — and what they were promised when they enlisted.

5.) Navy veteran Gregory Chase (San Francisco) wants people to ask, “How did your military service shape the person you are today?”

6.) Most veterans said the question they do not want to be asked anymore is “did you kill anybody?” Others wanted to engage questions of death and the other shadowy corners of combat experience.

7.) “I wish they would ask what I actually did in the military, rather than make assumptions,” said veteran Rick Zalon (Novato, Calif.), who worked as an editor and public information specialist in the Air Force.

8.) Another question that came up: “Would you want your children to serve in the military?”

9.) Mark Caddo (Cincinnati, Ohio) is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan said, “I grew up very poor and with little opportunity. I wish people would ask me what my experience in the military has done for me that is positive.”

10.) And then there was the most basic question of all. It can be merely a formality or it can be a key that unlocks doors to darkened rooms. Four words: “How are you doing?”

If you are a veteran, we want to hear from you on this. We’re collecting stories and insights about the veteran experience through this questionnaire: What should reporters know about returning to civilian life?