Retired Lt. Col. Justin Constantine, a wounded Marine who received a Purple Heart for his injuries sustained in Iraq, put together these rules of etiquette everyone should consider when talking with a wounded veteran, whether it’s at a neighborhood coffee shop or a top-executive business meeting. By just following a few simple rules, you can curb numerous bad conversational habits.
“As an injured veteran, I find that people want to talk with me, but they aren’t sure what to say and how to say it,” Constantine says. “With a few simple guidelines, you can avoid a lot of awkward conversations. That’s not just good for you, it’s also helpful for the veteran.”
Constantine’s five rules:
1. Don’t show pity. Do treat us like everyone else. We appreciate your compassion, but, at the same time, please don’t pity us. Instead, treat us like everyone else. The last thing any injured veteran wants to do is open up the wounds of war every time he or she meets someone.
2. Don’t bring up post-traumatic stress. Do ask us about our day. We might have post-traumatic stress, but we very well might not have it. In fact, a far greater number of civilians than servicemembers have post-traumatic stress. And even if we have post- traumatic stress, many of us are seeking care and treatment for it. Please don’t bring up the topic unless we indicate we want to talk about it. Instead, ask us general questions about how our day is going like you would with anyone else.
3. Don’t make grandiose promises. Do make friends. Many wounded warriors were visited by a wide variety of politicians and business leaders while in the hospital. These leaders typically promised all sorts of great jobs after the warriors’ recoveries, and, inevitably, they went borne with a mountain of business cards. Unfortunately, those very often turned into broken promises, and the warriors’ requests for assistance later went unanswered. So, please don’t make any promises you cannot or don’t truly intend to keep. Instead, get to know us as a friend or potential colleague.
4. Don’t assume we’re helpless. Do let us help you. Appreciate that, for many of us, whether dealing with the physical or invisible wounds of war, our recoveries can be long (one of the byproducts of surviving injuries that would have killed us in previous wars). That being said, we have had to navigate many different bureaucracies and personal and professional challenges and often have incredible skills impossible to find anywhere else. Talk with us with the understanding that because of what we already have been through and learned, we can provide great service to you.
5. Don’t ignore our caregivers. Do involve them in the conversation. We are just one member of a team. Very few wounded warriors are able to have successful recoveries without other people on their team. Unfortunately, many forget to include our caregivers in the conversation, although they have been through everything with us. Make sure you include them when you talk with us.
“Especially in a professional setting, knowing how to talk with a wounded veteran can be crucial to landing that contract or sealing a deal,” Constantine adds. “But on a more personal level, it’s also just the right thing to do.”
About the author: Justin Constantine is an inspirational speaker and leadership consultant who serves as a liaison between the military and corporate communities. He is a senior advisor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes campaign and is a fellow with the Truman National Security Project. Constantine also serves on the board of directors of the Wounded Warrior Project and cofounded the Veteran Success Resource Group. He received a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq.