Veteran Not Victim

| April 23, 2023

This is one in a series of short discussions of the myriad ways our society in general, and the mental health field in particular, fail to understand the veteran culture. That there is a such a thing as a “Veteran Culture” as something unique is itself a hotly contested when not summarily dismissed concept.

I saw an advertisement for a t-shirt with this simple phrase, “Veteran Not Victim” and realized these three words encapsulated everything I believe. This concept, the assignation of victimhood, is arguably the source of much of the resistance to mental health treatment in the veteran world.

Veterans are not victims of military service, or even the experience of war. That simple statement is abhorrent to many in the civilian world. How can someone train to kill others, then actually go do that and not be traumatized? They must be victims. Otherwise, they are monsters who need to be made aware of the errors of their thinking. Any resistance to this re-education is a sure sign they need to be medicated into a stupor, to make us all safe. I wish I weren’t quoting, almost verbatim, what I’ve been told by  supposed professionals in my field.

What these academically educated yet devoid of common sense individuals seem willfully incapable of understanding is why the concept of being a victim is so vociferously rejected by veterans. They view victimhood, with its implication of helplessness, as a virtue to be celebrated. There is simply no awareness that helplessness is something military training is intentionally designed to overcome. It sincerely fails to register that telling a warrior they are a victim, which they intend and would accept as a statement of empathetic support, is received as an insult. This contemptuous refusal to accept victimhood is taken as proof the veteran is dysfunctional in some fundamental way; they’re in denial and so damaged they can’t see how much help they truly need, the poor dears.

A further proof of this assumption is the statistic that shows 30% of all veterans have challenges adjusting to civilian life post service. The fact that statistic comes from the agency whose budget relies on veterans being damaged, an agency primarily run and staffed by civilians, doesn’t seem to call into question the validity of that number.

The primary challenge, not to just that number but to the concept of post-service transition issues, is the definition of “issues.” Not being able to sleep in the weeks and months post service is natural and expected, and is the most common complaint of veterans.

Sleep disturbances are not a result of being “victimized” by the experience of military service; the victimization is the misunderstanding of the primary cause of sleep disturbances. It is the misperception, the assignation of “a problem” by the civilian world to which the warrior has returned that is the real “issue.”

Let’s break down a common example of what is actually happening with sleep disturbances post service.

When a warrior returns home to their own comfy bed, the sleep, the peaceful, blissful rest they dreamed of while on deployment is often illusive. The civilian world, and the VA in particular, pathologizes and medicates this common experience. Their solution is a little white capsule full of zolpidem tartrate. The fact this little pill frequently does not work, or does not continue to work, is justification to re-categorize a simple sleep issue as a symptom of something bigger, of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because every veteran, of course, has PTSD.

Lack of sleep has cascading effects. Edginess. Irritability. Generalized anxiety. Depression. Over- or under-reactivity. Hypervigilance. Problems with concentration. Reckless – read careless – behavior. Increased use of substances, both legal and illegal.

These are the symptoms anyone can expect with prolonged sleep deprivation, but if this person is a veteran, this same list is diagnosed as PTSD. How many salesmen for Acme Widgets go to the doctor because the stress of selling widgets, of making sales quotas, of making widgets sound anything other than deathly boring, has them tossing and turning all night, would get diagnosed with PTSD for that same list of symptoms?

Here’s a novel thought. What if we addressed the most common complaint of returning warriors as the natural continuation of habits outside of their conscious awareness? Those habits were a part and parcel, a direct consequence of their duties. Of course, that would require a greater, or even a basic understanding of military service. Since that is unlikely to happen, or at least it has not happened yet, veterans must educate both themselves and the civilian world.

On deployment, or even in a stateside barracks, the warrior knows when it is his turn in the rack, others who are similarly trained are on guard. Now he is at home and since he is the only one with that training, who is on guard? He is consciously aware there is little chance an RPG will crash through the bedroom ceiling, yet he can’t shut down.

In the dark, his mind wanders and wonders, and remembers his most recent experiences. Among those are memories darker than the night he is trying to get through. It is strange that now he is home, he thinks about those things more than he did in the immediate aftermath, while he was still there. The less he sleeps, the more he thinks. The more he thinks, the less he sleeps. Some of this is the natural processing, the re-ordering of memories that occurs for all of us each and every night. Much of this is a consequence of a change in routine of which he is unaware.

His subconscious was accustomed to a bedtime ritual of sorts that included the transfer of duties to another who will remain awake, on guard, throughout the night. His subconscious is looking for activation of those routines, and without them, prods him to a state of alertness that interferes with sleep. Because we don’t recognize those routines are missing, we search for problems, for causative agents. This is part of our survival mechanism, to give the most weight to negative thoughts; paying attention to danger is what keeps us alive.

This inability to fall asleep or wake frequently during the night does not make our post service warrior a “victim” of sleep issues. It is also not a reflection of his opinion of the wife’s ability to remember to lock the doors and windows, something she has managed quite well, thank you, during his absence. It is a reaction playing out, without forethought and outside of awareness. The good news is, if this is something he is made aware of before habits are formed, the chances of it resolving in short order are high. If bad mental habits are formed, they can be dismantled. Even if many years have passed, addressing the fundamental quality and quantity of sleep significantly impacts that long list of secondary symptoms, even the thoughts and memories that became the dreaded nightly mental dance in the dark.

Unfortunately, this resolution is not the reality for too many warriors who struggle with sleep post service. This is not a result of military service, something that must simply be endured because of a choice to put on this Nation’s uniform. It is about too many having a vested interest in the brokenness of veterans and no interest in recognizing the veteran reality, the military experience, as fundamentally different from that of the civilian world.

In this society everyone is a victim of something, and preferably of many things. If veterans are not victims, that would infer there is something unique and different, even of value in military service. That might even mean those who choose military service are not inferior, perish the thought. And too many in the civilian world, particularly those who have been educated beyond common sense, simply cannot allow that challenge to their thinking. Hence, veterans are and must be victims. Their livelihoods and their entire world view depend on the continuation of that narrative. In the world they deny exists, it is only the lives of veterans that are at stake.

If you are struggling, reach out to a buddy or call 988 and press 1 if you want to identify as a veteran. If you are not struggling, reach out and be the buddy to someone else.

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I have sleep apnea and use a cpap machine.
Doc says it is definately from Viet of the Nam service.
Or agent orange.
Or Trump….


I hate my cpap machine.


My apnea is diagnosed as central with no root cause thus
what else could it be?


Ah, with friends and neighbors around the bonfire last night myself and a retired EOD soldier were having a conversation about IEDs when a never served civilian neighbor interjected a question and wanted to know which was harder? Serving in Iraq or Afghanistan?

It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t understand the answer, he didn’t even understand the question. He then followed up with a series of exclamations and talking points and opinions that seemed to come straight from a TV talking head or a pol. And were all wrong of course. Ignorance breeds like a virus and is amplified by our current social media structure. It is not possible to counter that, the machine itself is unthinking and uncaring and is more lies than truth.

But sleep? Many years ago, after returning from a deployment, my second night home I consumed a quantity of an over the counter medication known as alcohol. The time change from the deployment area led to poor regulation of my Circadian rhythms, Cysteine redox signaling and substrate cycles; which combined with the alcohol led to a perfect storm of sleep walking, something that practically never happens to me. The wife woke me standing guard at the foot of the bed with my trusty M1 Carbine that I used for home defense back in that day.
To sleep walk was a normal physiological response. To pull guard duty while sleepwalking was indicative of my routine. Something I would wake up in the middle of the night to do anyway. People often do routine things while sleep walking. Her view of it was waking up with me holding a gun standing at the foot of the bed in the middle of the night, facing away. One can see how this would be alarming.

While everything was quite normal, taken out of context, it could be interpreted many ways. Most people who never served lack that type of context, and it isn’t possible to explain it to them in a meaningful way, the way our society learns things these days.


Sleepwalking is scary. Wake up in the morning and find things
in disarray with no memory of doing it. Bite your tongue, fall
out of bed. I have an exercise mat the slides out from under
the bed at night while I sleep. Runs in my family and I lost
a sister to falling down a flight of stairs couple years ago.
Good that you have an understanding partner.

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

To those who have BTDT, no explanation is necessary.
To those who have not BTDT, no explanation is enough.


Spot on, OAM…you know us too well. Most of us don’t fit into the box that those “educated beyond common sense” want us to fit into. Pisses them off ’cause, after all, they have to justify their phony baloney jobs. I was very fortunate (lucky?) in that, tho I volunteered for and trained to be a “Kill a Commie for Mommy” Warrior, I never had to snatch a lanyard or kill some one up close and personal in a firefight. I did see, up close and personal, Compatriots that were wounded, maimed, dismembered, and/or killed in training accidents or terrorists attacks. There, but for the Grace of God, went me. Got a bit scary on those occasions when we were on very high alert, with the keys in the launchers, knowing we were a prime target for Ivan’s Migs or counter battery missiles and they were only seven minutes out. Very few people know how close Nuclear World War III was in October of ’73. Our whole attitude then was atypical of the Vet mentality of the time. “Phuque it, it don’t mean nothing, drive on.” And yep, I had more stress selling widgets and trying to keep higher off my ass than I did baby sitting nukes while sleeping with my weapons right close by. That sleep was sound ’cause I knew my trusted brothers had the watch.

Veteran Victim? Yep, I was for awhile after my discharge in ’74. Nobody wanted to hire a drug crazed, baby raping murderous, white boy. And that what we all were. Had to be true, it was all over the news.

Most of us just want to be left alone and enjoy the life that we have worked for. I know of way yonder more non Vets that took the “easy way out” than I do Vets that did. And I know and count as friends A LOT of Vets. Many of those Vets are Combat Vets. And yes, we look out for one another.


Fuck John Kerry and his Winter Soldier project.


The whole thing was a massive fraud.


Concur. Need a link to buy “Veteran Not Victim” shirts, mugs, etc. though.


That’s going to be a gaagle-fu on your own as I don’t remember the site, nor would I vouch for it if I did remember.



Skivvy Stacker

When I joined the Marines in 1975, going on the delayed entry program, there were some people in my high school who wanted to know why I had joined a group of “baby killers”. That was my first clue that things would not be the way I thought they were supposed to be.
The Marine Corps was a good place to be, but the time period was not. Lot’s of low level recruits resulted in low level morale. This made my time in less than memorable for me. It was peace time, and I was in the Supply Admin field, so didn’t see any combat, but when I got home I felt like the civilian world had no concept of the idea of HONOR, and SACRIFICE; and no wish to give any kind of acknowledgement to me, or men like me, for our service, and our practice of those very virtues.
It was a big let down, and I became quite angry at the world for a while. There is still a part of me, 46 years later, that retains some of that anger and resentment.
Some of it is just because I’m a crabby old man.

Dave Hardin

I have slept like a baby in the back of a 5 ton truck full of high explosives moving through the open desert. I have slept like the dead on a ship roaring through 30 foot seas. I have slept in a tent north of the artic circle. I have slept a hundred feet underground in caves. In planes above 30,000 feet, I sleep just fine.

I have slept through more safety briefs and pointless meetings than I care to admit.

When I was a child I would cry when my mother made me take a nap. Now I cry if I don’t get a nap.

If I am a victim, I am a victim of my own doing. Insofar a I can tell I am only a victim of love, from which I seek no escape.

Semper Fidelis

Last edited 1 year ago by Dave Hardin

Yeah, but have you ever met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis?

Last edited 1 year ago by 26Limabeans

She’ll try to take you upstairs for a ride.


Deployed the Fu of the Tube of You.
Thought I’d get Robert Palmer,
but instead came up with The Cars.


Holy Cow,
almost 12 years since the comeback and last hurrah of The Cars.
They cleverly alluded references to blue tip ammo
as a billiards / pool cue.


USMC Steve

I think we all did Dave. All but the truck with explosives. I was not allowed near explosives.


I had to carry four pounds of C-4 and the blasting caps in my ruck. I couldn’t trust my guys not to cook their C-rats with it. Had to have it to detonate unexploded bombs or arty rounds we found in the bush.


It was truly amazing how many VC/NVA were creeping around our perimeter every night. But our noise discipline was so outstanding you couldn’t even hear the claymores going off.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Humans have two natures: animal and rational. The rational contains our morals and ethics and keeps the animal nature in check. The animal nature contains exactly what it implies – the natural desire to survive and to fight if necessary. Combat heightens that natural impulse and can become dominant. As I experienced, combat does not erase the rational side and this created a deeply disturbing conflict between the two natures. Two things helped to get past this conflict – a belief in God and a Catholic education that had taught me about our animal and rational natures. Most religions and most secular laws recognize that it is rationally okay to kill when one is threatened with great harm. Recognizing this reinstated my rational side, albeit a healthy dose of animal awareness of danger remained close at hand. The insight into one’s dual natures is a powerful thing. It gives one the power to draw upon each as appropriate to a situation.


Veterans are not victims of military service, or even the experience of war. 

Damn skippy. I’d add to the other sentiments here:

Tolerating the seemingly intolerable, for the mostly ungrateful, since 1775.

Civics and The Tale of The Warrior has taken a back seat to other topic du jour. Unfortunately lack of preparation for, and integration into, our Republic has left a’many soul to view things through a lens where deferring to ‘authority’ and ‘expertise’ is not only expedient, but proper. It is far easier to point to external fixes when one does not understand the unbound capabilities of self and of voluntary union. Hence one of my favorite sayings of Vets, “We take better care of ourselves than anyone else.”

Longterm I don’t think this ‘cloistering’ is a pragmatic fix, but how do a small number, rightly or wrongly, effect society?

Lucky me, I’ve dodged, dipped, dived, ducked and dodged most the scars from tha PTS but others were not so lucky and have no more account on this plane. Can’t help but shake the notion that if instead of ‘being perceived a beaten dog‘ by the uncalluséd, if those folks understood why service was important and what dividend it does pay them, why having a knuckle-dragging Grunt or a tightfisted Supply Daddy around makes the world betterer…

Our experiences (esp. putting up with inane bullshit) were paid for, and I know in my heart of hearts, if our countrypeople got a whole lot less judge-y they might reap some of that sweet Return of Investment.

Final note, the hypocrisy is getting intolerable to me. Re crime, the level of punishment of our Service Members seems unduly harsh compared to Joe/Jane citizen, let alone our ‘Ruling Class’. But keep shitting on the most honorable(-ish?) subset of society, the ones who ‘we want on that wall, we need on that wall’, and failing generations of Warriors. I bet it’ll work out for ya. {insert recruiting #s here}


Honorable-ish? Yep. That whole “Officer and a gentleman” thing? Whatever. I’m more of a “Charming Rogue.” When I do break the rules, I do it with flair and panache. As I’ve told my wife on more than one occasion: I’m a Soldier, not a Saint.


That was kinda my point. The Brotherhood is predicated on an internal ethic that should offend the outsider.

“Conditionally morally-flexible with hard absolutes that can, and often will, be expressed in a very acute manner.”


“the level of punishment of our Service Members seems unduly harsh compared to Joe/Jane citizen, let alone our ‘Ruling Class’”

Can’t have it both ways; claiming to live by concepts like “honor” and “sacrifice”, which you claim civilians don’t, has a price. You don’t want to pay the price, don’t take the job. .

USMC Steve

They don’t dude. The only job requirement for the average civvie is to successfully pop out of momma’s puddy. After that, very little is expected of them, and as is indicated by the last two generations, that is what they have been capable of delivering, very little. Unless it is for themselves.


OAM says, “It is about too many having a vested interest in the brokenness of veterans…” I see two things contributing to this: politics, for example the adoption of anti-war sentiments which fueled the image of the baby killer soldier; and greed as in the huge amounts of money going into the VA mental health care system. Paradoxically, the high focus on veteran mental health has led to the “thank you for your service” movement. When told this, I’m unsure if it is a guilt trip (virtue signaling) or sincerity. It is a bummer that I feel it necessary to be skeptical.


Heh. Hardin and I have been beating ourselves up over updating the THA FNG FAQ. The sticking point- what is a Vet? Describe in four sentences or less.


Are you jerking our chain based on the stupid “what is a woman?” meme which is going around? Your TAH FNG FAQ veteran description is just fine. Gender is grammatically defined by masculine, feminine, neuter and common. TAH defines a veteran as someone who has served in the military. Hence the term is both M&F and thus can be also considered as common. Neuter(ed) only applies to Army.  😂 
That TAH also invites non-military speaks highly of the web site’s character.
Oops, more than four sentences, but in the spirit of TAH, frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.

Or a vet can be an animal doctor dealing with dog-faced pony soldiers.


You are misunderstanding the target audience, and it ain’t aGrim or the rest of You People.
More like 5JC’s bonfire buddy- well-meaning but essentially clueless.


Thanks for the clarification.

I get who your target is (the veteran clueless). I think the concept of ‘what is a Veteran’ is far too complex to try to explain in a few sentences because it is an experience like no other. There are a LOT of common elements in the experience. However, it is also very personal in our development as OAM explained in the first article. I’ve tried and will continue to try, but I’ve come to believe the only way to clue-in the clueless is tell them to go join the military. I try to convince the young and have had a couple of successes. OAM’s first article has given me some new approaches that I hope will work.

Unfortunately, today’s military is becoming clueless.


You will never please everybody. Just decide on a definition, post it prominently so everybody knows what your definition is, and tell the rest of the world to KMA. It ain’t no big thing.


“30% of all veterans have challenges adjusting to civilian life post service.”

WTF is “challenges”?
Any change is challenging. Moving to a new state has its challenges. Getting a new job has its challenges. Life has its challenges.

Most “warriors”, even the ones with an actual “warrior” MOS, spend most of their enlistment doing pretty bland stuff. This ain’t WWII where “warriors” were sent overseas for years, and even then a large percentage never saw combat.

Any “warrior” who hasn’t learned to sleep in any position, in any weather, any time of day or night, was not a “warrior”. More like the main character in “The Princess and the Pea” fairy tale.

Then again, I was never a frigging “warrior”, so what do I know? I was, however, a soldier for a few years; does that count?


Never was a big fan of the “warrior” moniker myself. I served 24 years, a lot of them in a lot of shitty dangerous places, but I’m no warrior. I’m signal, I ain’t the tip of the spear.

Last edited 1 year ago by SFC D
President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Ditto here. Signal, 20 years.
And when I retired, it was damned difficult to make the change to civilian life.
Language……ohhhh, such language.
Waking and sleeping habits.
Expectations from others.
And the civilian work force!
But all that are therapy, stories and tall tales to be told over a series of beers with fellow vets, NOT no damned sissy ass civilian shrink wanna be.
(damned! I still miss “the life”!)

Thx, OAM, for writing down what many of us know, but don’t have the knowledge and language to share.

When did you retire? I’m wondering if our paths crossed. I’m one of those guys that spent 75% his career in 11th. Thunderbirds, baybeee!

Last edited 1 year ago by SFC D

“damned! I still miss “the life”! ”

I am reminded of a few quotes;

“They were the best of times, they were the worst of times…”
Charles Dickens
“Bliss it was in that dawn to be aliveBut to be young was very heaven.”William Wordsworth
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”R.E. Lee


I worked on an Air Force base for a while. Lots of that “warrior” crap. Of course it was a SAC base, so there is that (thoughts of Maj. “King” Kong). Kind of funny remembering all those pregnant AF personnel (and there were an amazing amount of them) in their pregnancy uniforms as “warriors”; from a distance they looked more like a herd of penguins.

Hell, I was infantry and still don’t think of myself as a “warrior”. Knew some jackasses that thought they were. More than happy to let them walk point instead of me.


I was an RTO in Germany, and they were actually going to send me to a signal school (Field Radio Repair?). I was really looking forward to that; I enjoyed putzing around with the radios, field phones, etc (and reading all those PS magazines featuring Connie Rodd). A week or so before I was to go I got my orders to RVN. Great timing, eh? Even better, that was in Jan. 1968, so I was home on leave watching the festivities on television as a preview of what I was getting into.

That’s a lot funnier now than it was then.

My sister married a guy who was in the signal corps and spent most of his enlistment in Thailand. Big golf player, and I think he played every course in Thailand. Lived in a real hose, with servants. We never discussed the other benefits, he married my sister after all. It turns out he was in Saigon on the evening of Jan. 31, 1968 running some errand. Surprise, surprise, surprise!! They scooped up his young, definitely non-warrior ass, handed him an M-16, and put him on the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut airbase so he could get an up close and personal view of the fireworks. I laughed like hell when he told me that story. He was not amused. I fear he did not see the humour in his predicament. Other than that, he had a good sense of humour.


Yeah, that whole “baby killer” thing. It seems to me it is those who called returning vets that are now the ones that are all in on killing as many babies as possible at all times in all places. If that isn’t enough they want to mutilate those who have escaped their pre birth attempts at destruction.
There weren’t many babies in northern I corp. I am not aware of anyone who had attempted to do any harm to the few that were there.


Had a consult with a psychologist earlier in the month for PTSD. Waiting 10 years too long for it. We’ll see what the VA says


I have a Tee shirt that says USAF Retired Not Expired. I like the sentiment Veteran not Victim I’ll probably get that shirt if I come across it.

In 1999 I deployed in support of Operation ALLIED FORCE (Kosovo) with the Joint-STARS aircraft. We had declared our IOC less than two years prior and were short on aircraft and crew. We had two birds and 5 crews available in theater in order to provide maximum support we routinely canniballized a crew to augment the crew flying the mission so that they could fly a longer crew duty day, as such most sorties were tasked for 16-17 hours and about 19-20 hours crew duty day. My personal record during that deployment was a 21 hour sortie. One complicating factor was the desired mission coverage windows kept changing. One day we’d have a nighttime vul period and do that for several days and then they’d change up to a daytime vul period and switch it up.

For the first time in my then 19 year flying career they offered us No-Go pills. We used Ambien (Zolpidem Tartrate) first a trial dose to see if we tolerated it (had any side effects) and later they would issue us one pill before going into crew rest for a mission.

What I found worked best was about a half hour before crew rest started to wash that pill down with a half a bottle of German White Wine. Without the wine it didn’t work to well. I also tried to wash it down with a good German beer, but would have to wake up in the middle of crew rest to pee so it defeated the purpose of the Ambien.


Accidentally found beer and Nyqil did the same thing one day– had a beer (not Bud Lite, mind you) after taking Nyqil for a cold one Friday evening while watching TV, then suddenly foubd it was Saturday morning on the couch there. Didn’t do that again.


Nyquil… Peppermint schnapps same same.


Heck yeah. They only way to win it with ’em is not to have gone– like “smart” civilians, you know (i.e., don’t be a sucket!). That’s where making “Thank you for your service!” obligatory counteracts that attitude (even if it forces civilians to “only” say the words, it does blunt some of that along the way).


“sucker!” I meant… frickin’ cellphone


Awww bucket!


Best one yet:

“Thank a Vet.
Be an American worth fighting for.”

All the thanks I need.


My tagline to civilians-
“Be worthy”.


I support that. Or as CPT Miller (via Tom Hanks) said:


Great movie—–once.
I don’t ever want to see it again.


I had a 6 month break in service after a VN tour. It took me 1 month to realize I could not stand to work with civilians. No one would make a decision, they wanted to have meetings and handwring. No one would take charge and move out.