Veteran privilege. This a phrase that invokes a broad range of reactions depending on who the audience is. From bland nonchalance to foaming mouth religious fervor, the American public’s feelings about veteran privilege runs a gamut of emotions. Does veteran privilege exist? Some people would reason that yes; given the advantages veterans have in obtaining government employment, the almost automatic respect veterans are given, and the retail discounts that many corporations are generous enough to offer military warriors, veteran privilege exists in many forms. Some people would dispute that logic and maintain that veteran privilege does not exist because the extras that veterans are afforded are undeniably earned by volunteering to be part of that other 1% - people who willingly sign up to serve their country, while knowing they may have to one day pay the ultimate sacrifice. I believe that it is a selective privilege and that one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., trumps whatever so-called privilege may exist. When I was completing basic training, my drill sergeants loved to preach that everyone was the same and that the only color they saw was green. But once you stow that uniform away and leave the safe ranks of the base, the person inside that uniform is judged by whatever preconceived notions society holds them by.
There are certain laws and institutions in place that blanket most veterans with the same “privilege.” Those benefits are amazing and are greatly appreciated. However, I’d like to explore this issue from a more personal/individual standpoint. For veterans who are minorities or who are lower on the socio-economic food chain than others, receiving these privileges takes a back seat to how the world views them before their service.
In my opinion, the Post 9/11 GI Bill was the most incredible program the military has ever provided their veterans. The BAH checks that allowed us to purchase goods while I earned my college education were a godsend every month. What wasn’t so great were all the times my family and I were followed when we went to these institutions to purchase goods. The indignation I felt was soon replaced by a weary sadness that I don’t think will ever leave me. Must I always wear the uniform to be treated with some type of dignity? I found it incredible that the same corporations that deemed my service something to be worthy of a 10% discount on all the products I may purchase, found it necessary to follow me around, thinking that I was on my way to stealing these same products. This is what I mean about how a person’s minority, low-social status trumps whatever military privilege they may have. The experiences of certain cultures are so against what this so-called military privilege is supposed to be at times that it feels like no privilege at all.
Do you think Humayun Khan’s parents felt particularly privileged when they were belittled by a man who was running for President of the United States? I imagine that no amount of so-called privilege that Humayun may have received while alive would have made up for his parents being disrespected on national television. Yes, there was widespread condemnation from across the country for Trump’s comments but guess what? The person who insulted a Gold Star family went on the be voted the Commander-in-chief of the United States military. And it happened because they were Pakistani Muslims.
When the female service members who are in the crosshairs of this photos scandal finish serving, do you think they will feel privileged with photos of themselves in compromising positions living forever on the internet. Whatever privileges they receive cannot supplant the betrayal of their fellow battle-buddies. This happened because they are women and this country and the armed services, while improving, are not women-friendly.
I am proud of my service and willingly admit that the perks received from serving can be wonderful. But I don’t lose sight of the individuals underneath those uniforms. When those uniforms come off they often face the same exact adverse conditions that they faced before they ever thought about putting a uniform on. Often, what seems like veteran privilege to others is simply minority veterans finally rising to the station of equality in a nation that does not celebrate our differences but uses these differences to exploit and divide.