Happy Veteran’s Day! You Don’t Exist!

I received a message on Facebook today (my personal account, not FWD/Forward’s account, which is not currently being updated because *ahem* Facebook seems to refuse to fix their blog importing tool and I can’t keep up with manually posting it every day…but I plan to try… /Facebookrant). It was one of those “fun meme” invitations, asking me to participate.

“Change your profile picture!” it said, “For Veteran’s Day, it would be great if we all changed our profile pictures to a picture of a veteran!”

How odd…said I. I haven’t changed my profile picture in almost a year…

It continued: “It doesn’t have to be a picture of your husband! Just any picture of anyone who has or is currently serving would be great, and a great way to honor our veterans!”

I might have just deleted it except for that last part. It doesn’t have to be a picture of your husband…

I think about how many times I would attempt to do anything official on the phone, and would asked for my husband’s social, instead of the sponsor’s (that is military speak for the military member who sponsors the dependents for benefits).

I think about how many times I would pick my kid up from daycare after PT, in my full Navy PT gear, and someone would ask me if my husband was in the Navy.

Mostly, I think about the way that the VA is still scurrying to keep up with the care that women veterans need. Some put the number from Iraq and Afghanistan alone at 200,000 active duty women, excluding National Guard and reservists. Women are left behind, with no resources, or resources scattered so far and away that they are inaccessible to those who need them most.

Which is why pieces like this one from NPR kind of really irk me, when they seem to mislead broad audiences. Somehow trying to imply that that the VA is some kind of miracle worker, reaching out to every woman veteran who is in need of services, and that they are meeting the diverse needs of women veterans. It is putting up a lovely window dressing on a filthy, dirt covered window, making sure enough of the filth is smeared out of the way so you can see a very narrowed scope of things from your apartment. The fact is they are hardly meeting the needs of their male veterans, in the ways of mental health, or meeting needs in a timely manner at all. Women veterans, however, are not having their needs met. They are missing the same marks with women, but completely whiffing on things like women-specific health, military sexual trauma, and accessible centers. We could ask Ruth Moss about all the extra ways they failed her, or the homeless women veterans with children who have no where to turn because the closest facility that can help them is a thousand miles away, and usually isn’t run by the VA anyhow.

Today I went to a Veteran’s Day Ceremony here on our base. I won’t go into details about how the President — who is here in Korea — was supposed to be there, or how they changed it at the last moment. I watched as VFW representative,s dressed in their various hats, went around and thanked the collected men in uniform in attendance. I stood there, a (friend’s) baby strapped to my chest, while my daughter, in her Brownie uniform, handed out  programs to the guests.

I was just another wife, with a gaggle of girls around me. Taking up space, snapping pictures, getting in the way. It never occurs to anyone that the passel of wives standing around may also have served a purpose in the peace that is being observed. We are unremarkable, though something to be glared at if our baby starts crying while the General is speaking.

The VA is not making progress towards addressing the needs of women. And they won’t because our society doesn’t recognize us. Women — wives — are mutually exclusive from veterans and servicemembers.

We are invisible. It’s like we don’t exist.

5 Comments

  1. What really stood out in my mind is the fact that the message asked you, who if I remember correctly are a veteran, to change your picture to a picture of a… veteran.

  2. It doesn’t have to be a picture of your husband!

    I got stuck on this too, though not because I myself am a veteran. However, one of my cousins is a veteran, is unmarried, and has three kids. She was the first among my Facebook friends to change her profile picture for Veterans’ Day (to one of herself on patrol in Iraq) and the first to encourage her own servicemember friends to change their pics.

    Also, if I needed a picture of a veteran for any reason, she would be the first person I would ask, since she is the first person I think of when asked if I know any veterans. I respect her in so many ways, and it hurts to think that in so many ways she (and you, and all women who serve) is treated like she doesn’t exist.

  3. What a slap in the face for you, and every other lady veteran.

    I don’t know any veterans myself, so I don’t knwo what the situation in the UK is, but I would be surprised and delighted if it’s any better.

  4. I feel you. “Oh, is that your boyfriend’s uniform?” Sigh…

  5. I was Army for seven years. I have this memory that stands out in my mind: I was wearing my PT jacket one day with my civies (it’s allowed), and someone asked me, with a this patronizing smile, if I was wearing my boyfriend’s jacket. Believe me, I corrected her, but it was a slap in the face.

    You’re right – we don’t exist. No matter how well we do our jobs, no matter where we served, or what rank we achieved… we’re just the “little ladies.” It burns me.