If you want to help veterans — truly help — during the transition to civilian life: Hold us accountable. For everything.
Having run workshops and film screenings from coast to coast and talked with hundreds of veterans, I often get asked, “What can we do as a community to support our veterans as you transition home?” The first few times, admittedly, I fumbled through an answer that probably did not amount to much. Driving home from a screening in New Hampshire, I sat in silence for the first hour and thought about what was lacking from my transition, as well as what I see lacking in the lives of other veterans as they get their feet on the ground in the real world. Now, there are a few items that came up … but I ultimately settled on accountability. Accountability is two-part: one individual, the other community.
Individually, veterans have spent time in one of the most disciplined and regimented environments in the country. To be successful we had to follow the rules, show up on time, work hard, and never quit. In training and combat we saw the results of slacking off, quitting, and not holding oneself to the high standards expected of us. In order to beat these things, we held ourselves and those around us accountable for everything; there was no passing the buck. Lives depended on doing our job, and being good at it. When we made a mistake, we manned up, owned up, and learned from it. This should not be any different out of uniform.
Personal accountability breeds personal success. Write down your goals, tell your spouse, post them on social media — whatever you need to do to motivate yourself to put the work in to be successful. And then: do the work.
Being on the community side of the table in these conversations has been helpful in identifying where I made mistakes during my own transition home. For I bounced from mistake to mistake. I believed what some of the people in my support structure were saying – “That is what happens when veterans come home, he’ll figure it out, just give him space.” While this is true to an extent, I have seen that in many aspects of the transition we veterans are granted too much space by our new communities. Yes, I needed to figure things out on my own, as does anyone going through a similar process; but I believe I would have figured it out sooner if someone had thrown it in my face when I started to slip.
Hold us accountable. We have the drive, the discipline, the intestinal and mental fortitude to accomplish great things. Why let us stay stuck? If you see a veteran struggling, offer assistance, offer an outlet, offer tools to help the veteran move forward. But after you do that: help the veteran set goals and deadlines, then hold the vet accountable until he meets them.
Noah Cass is a Marine Corps Infantry veteran who served two combat tours in Iraq. He now uses his experiences in and out of the service to assist brothers and sisters transition to civilian life. Through film screenings and public speaking, he has worked with veteran and civilian groups around New England to tell the veteran story. He lives in northern Connecticut with his wife and kids.