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  • Writer's pictureValerie King

How reading changes your perspective

Updated: Dec 19, 2018

My experience with the subject of veteran homelessness; the subject of the children's book" Zack had our Back "is not first hand. I am a civilian. I signed up to volunteer with an organization that supports the homeless veteran community and my life began to change. While in the office answering phones or screening veterans for employment or shelter opportunities, I often had time to read the case histories of the men and women being served. Needless to say, I was often horrified by the combat related traumas and shocked that the thank y ou for their trouble was often a hard landing on the streets of --in this case--the nation's capital ; the capital of the free world. How could this be possible? I learned there are many reasons for this that are beyond the scope of a blog entry, but I endeavored to do something about it in whatever way I could and thus, began a journey into a world I knew nothing about. I learned that my efforts were regarded quite warily and defensively , and rightly so. The words "thank you for your service; words in the Acknowledgement of the very book I was writing, are trite and overused. Veterans are fiercely protective of their service and community and are often angered or frustrated by this inadequate expression. At the same time, they recognize that it is one of the only ways we have of bridging the gap that often exists between us. Many of us don't know how to begin a conversation with a veteran, how to ask where he/she's been or what they have been through. Conversely, veterans understand that civilians cannot possible understand what they have been through without having experienced it themselves.

To better understand the situation and to build a better knowledge base, I took out some books at the local library. Two of the them: "Odysseus in America "by Jonathan Shay and "Afterwar, Healing the Moral Wounds of our Soldiers "by Nancy Sherman, confirmed the experiences I had and helped explain the mindset of these warriors. In reading these books, I learned veterans in many communities have come to terms with the situation by developing an alternative phrase : please, thank you for your service.

I think this alternative phrase helps circumvent the civilian imposition on the warrior psyche by ostensibly asking for permission to enter their world or acknowledging upfront that as civilians , we may be trespassing . In the end, perhaps the best means of saying thank you, is by doing rather than saying. Volunteer, donate, read books about veteran issues to your children; something to show appreciation rather to tell. Although I use words to express myself in this regard , my hope is to use them to 'paint 'suggestions, in "Zack had our Back" that may help change or prevent negative perceptions of homeless veterans from forming or spreading.

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