Story by Susan A. Vernick, Etiquette Chics

Our country’s veterans are truly at the foundation of the freedom we all enjoy. All veterans are worthy of our thanks every day as we enjoy this precious freedom. But, beyond that, how can we act on those feelings of thankfulness, as a nation? When we interact with veterans and especially wounded veterans, what are appropriate conversation starters? How do we as a nation, “Ask better questions” when we meet a wounded veteran for the first time or even those who are in our circle more regularly, as a community.

Here are some simple, inspiring and thoughtful prompts to make our wounded veterans feel more understood, and even appreciated. Of course, their challenges are not solved by a conversation, but as a nation, we should do everything we can to always convey with our words and actions that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifice is not vain. As we recognize Veterans Day and National Caregivers Day in November, we can be mindful of our nation’s veterans, wounded veterans and their families, and their immeasurable sacrifice.

 “Ask Better Questions” And Some Questions to Avoid…

  • Do not show pity. Treat a wounded veteran just as you would anyone else. Make conversation that is simple and genuine. Examples are: “Good morning, how’s the coffee here?” “I am so sick of this snow!” “How about those Steelers (or local team)!” or “What do you think of that new store?” Any genuine “small talk.” Our wounded veterans want to be treated just like everyone else.
  • Ask about their service and be willing to listen. Ask about their military career such as: the branch of service, places they were stationed, deployment locations, and area of specialty. All are great questions and conversation starters and keepers. Beyond asking, take the time to listen.
  • Include the caregiver. If a caregiver is with them, certainly include them in the conversation. Ask genuine questions of interest like, “How did you meet? “How long have you been married?” and “Do you have children?” Also, offer simple words of encouragement or just acknowledge their great sacrifice. I would even suggest going out a limb and offer to buy them coffee. A question like, “Hey, could I buy you both a Starbucks™ coffee, just to say “thank you?”
  • Offer to help the caregiver and family. If you know the family well enough or even if you are just establishing a friendship, offer to step in and give the caregiver and family help when appropriate. How? Ask to watch their kids for an evening, bring over an occasional dinner, invite the entire family over for a BBQ, be a listening ear, etc.
  • Get to know them. If this is someone that is going to be in your regular circle, take time to possibly build a relationship. Do not overcomplicate this, just as you would most people, give them a chance to become a friend. But, do not include or exclude just because of their injuries, neither of those has the right motivations behind them
  • Do not start by asking specific questions regarding their injuries. If they interject something that appears like they are willing or want to talk about that topic, then by all means. But, do not start a conversation here.
  • Do not ask about PTSD. Ask how they are, but this is not a topic for starting a conversation or one that even is appropriate for a casual conversation. Certainly, those close will most likely know the individual situation, but this is again not for any type of casual conversation.
  • Those injured are not helpless. Yes, there are cases where our veterans have sustained serious seen and unseen injuries that have impaired them physically and/or cognitively. Certainly, help when the situation lends itself to being obvious, but otherwise, let them do for themselves. Again, severely injured may have more obvious needs where we can reach out to help, but overall our country’s injured want to be as independent as their circumstances allow. They have a lot more adapting skills sets and problem-solving skills than we may realize. They truly are the best of the best…our best and brightest. Never let their injuries fog that truth.

“Asking better questions” are small steps we can take to let our wounded veterans and their families know that we are a grateful nation. Do we sometimes mess up, miss an opportunity, or feel like maybe we didn’t say just the right thing? Possibly, yes. But, consider putting these simple guidelines and “questions” into practice. We do not have to be perfect in everything we say. But we do need to be perfectly committed to recognizing and supporting those who have sacrificed for us all. This “great land of liberty” is both great and free because of the valiant, brave and selfless sacrifice of so many men and women, and their families.