The New Veteran, A Culture of Entitlement and Peter Pan

Updated: April 15, 2015


By Toby Nunn

President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what can you do for your country.” If only he had done that for today’s returning veterans.

It appears to me that we have created a strange new culture within the Veteran community and perhaps I am alone in seeing it but honestly it offends me. How did we get from being men and women of honor to a subclass of entitled and counter-culture, whiny, wussified leaches?

First let me “validate” myself before the dick measuring, self-loathing folks tell me I’m not qualified to speak on this matter. I am a former Sergeant First Class Infantryman who saw his share of combat leadership time.

For those of you that feel you need to know more—you don’t! That should be enough. In fact just signing your name, raising your hand while you swear and mean it, should be enough. Not knowing you or being inside your head, how can I honestly apply judgment or comprehend your emotional experience known as “combat”?

Since getting back I have continued to feel the call of duty. Not the pull of the video game calling me but instead ensuring my job as a leader is still being accomplished. I’ve held jobs ranging from Non-Profit leadership to peer counseling positions and contract work in addition to owning a veteran-centric company and partner in another.

With this exposure I have seen an increasing trend that has made me question why I would continue to work in these realms. The majority of Veterans I come in contact with are perpetrating the greatest defacing of the uniform and of their service.

Yes, I know the statistics about how many have served during the Global War on Terror and that .45% of the general public is carrying the lion share of the security and safety load for the rest of the country and society. Yes, I feel offended when some inexperienced college kid tries to lecture me on the power of diplomacy and how we brought this all on ourselves by being so awesomely powerful and successful as a nation.

The majority of Veterans I seem to constantly come in contact with tend to think that, because they are a very small percentile of those that served, they deserve more than the paycheck they received doing it—and the true gratefulness of the nation that is constantly finding ways to express that without including the two federal holidays.

Since the Global War on Terror we have seen a cultural shift in Veteran behavior. Guys and Gals are not coming home and joining the Veteran of Foreign Wars and American Legion in droves. In fact they are not joining at all.

I would say the biggest reason for this is because those organizations have an expectation of support. Your service qualifies and validates you to join but you have to contribute to become a member.  As a member it’s highly encouraged that you participate in initiatives.

shutterstock_226837954“How dare they ask for more than I have already given” seems to be a reoccurring theme. This is even more supported by the countless number of new Non Profits that start up daily whose sole purpose is to give back with no expectation other than receiving what ever it is they are offering. These offerings range from small dolls to dogs, free beer, money, cars and houses and even amazing family holidays and adventures.

These are all bad-ass things but what happens when we tell our brothers and sisters they can have them without continued effort? People start expecting to get and have what they want without earning or deserving it.

The message of gratitude is lost and the badass thing that’s being received has become the price tag for ones integrity. The moral fabric that stitched together our uniforms and the basis of service is being sold out for..stuff.

Now, in defense of many organizations that are doing great and wonderful things at the call of the country—PLEASE DO NOT STOP! The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullins, had to navigate the waters of support without the funding or backing of the country’s leadership. Like many great leaders he was entrepreneurial and created a job position and office that took well-spoken leaders with extensive experience in the wounded realm and put them to work speaking with non-profits and NGO’s to raise the money and support the Department of Defense and the Veteran Administration were unable to secure.

This also facilitated the faster moving civilian market to address, work on, and solve complex and unique needs. This was and is still needed in several ways. However, the downside of this is the perversion of the intent by those that feel entitled.

I absolutely agree that all of our service deserves note and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am truly thankful that those experiences color the lens I look at life through.

However, when is the moment we stop leading each and every conversation with how we served ensuring everyone we meet knows that we did? In addition to saying it, there is also the “in-case-I-haven’t-told-you-what-a-bad-ass-I-am-t-shirt-and-operator-ball-cap” to make sure you got it.

Is there anything wrong with this? No, but there are some similarities to the TAPOUT phenomenon that went global with the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. When all of a sudden all the fringe athletes that dedicated their lives to training and sacrifice had their efforts devalued by a bunch of fat douche bags presenting the appearance of being more than just an athletic fan.

We learned a lot of lessons with the treatment and return of the Vietnam veterans. Especially since the majority had no choice but to serve and 58,000 died. Especially since the big result from their return was a generation of silent suffering that seems to be culminating with a lack of infrastructural support, suicide, a lifetime of substance abuse, and high levels of homelessness.

Those that have escaped still hide their experience to avoid stigma but have moved forward and achieved in many cases great things. And they have done so humbly.

How is it now that our generation of Veterans feels that, like those that preceded us, we deserve leadership roles by default and success without effort? I have always understood that Success is the sum of Effort and Opportunity. Why do we feel it necessary to not move forward and reintegrate with everyone else?

PTSD2One of my favorite demotivational posters is the one with a warrior shooting his weapon in combat and the caption reads “P.T.S.D., What happens when you get home and realize you will never be this awesome again.”

Serving in combat also doesn’t limit our potential. Of course everyone is a hero, operator, or the second most over-used and misunderstood word, “Sniper.” Professional trigger puller is a very limited career field that’s already filled by the few highly qualified guys that actually are. The majority of those guys are translating their skills into PHD level tasks, moving forward, taking the skill sets of leadership, critical thinking, audacity and are building companies.

These, however, are few in number in comparison to the many that have transitioned from the military into the civilian world. Some, instead of trying to create and rebuild, find excuses to remain in a predeployment mentality. While others have found inventive ways to apply skill sets like helping defeating poachers in Africa, responding to natural disasters, and being a true help and support structure to those in need, many just want to be recognized as someone that did something most others did not.

While we spend a lot of time and effort making sure everyone in the military knows they are appreciated and their current sacrifices do not go unnoticed, they are the ones still officially serving. For us as a Veteran community trying to continue to claim those sacrifices and accolades is borderline disingenuous. Why do we not feel that our service would mean more if we applied it to the future? Why is past glory holding us back and retarding our growth?

I belong to several veteran groups and forums and find myself at odds with many of the members because I want to use my service to compliment and create my future—not be the sum of my value and identity. Both of my hands, legs, and mouth work, so I do not need a service dog to help me navigate through a shopping mall.

While I still dislike crowds and feel anxiety in public, I am emotionally present. So when I find myself struggling, I meet the challenge as I did “over there “ and press forward.

We are not victims. So why do we portray ourselves as such?

We didn’t flinch in the face of the enemy—we shot them in the face and turned their heads into canoes. So why must we flinch in the face of adversity or challenge here?

We use programs and organizations as crutches and validate our need for them with a “poor me” attitude. Is it because success is not as sexy as failure? Where and who taught us that? What military school was that in? Apparently I missed out on the Shit Bags and Thieves School.

Stop being a victim and become a victor. Grow up and stop becoming a modern day Peter Pan living in a fictitious video game world.

Find noble purpose; serve your community, God, and family. Enrich those around you and stop being a parasitic byproduct of something that is honorable and just.

Be a Man! For you Ladies, that simply means put childish things behind you.

Be a contributor and honor your service with success. The beauty of the American Dream is you decide how to measure success. Regardless of your personal metrics, I guarantee past glories are only a foundation—not the finishing work.




  1. JG

    April 15, 2015 at 10:33 am

    From your lips to God’s ears.

  2. john

    April 15, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Well said. Most folks are suprised when I tell them about my service because that was a part of my life. It is not all of my life, I am a husband, father, Christian not the guy hoping to get more money in disability crying woe is me. I am banged up, have nightmares and PTSD but that doesn’t mean that my life ended in 2006 when I left service. Speak the truth brother and keep on kicking ass.

  3. Eric

    April 15, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Dude… I agree with some small points…. Challenge yourself, finding a cause, not allowing your last to hold back your future… Even, the point calling out anyone who is overly proud of their service… I can agree with those.

    What boggles my mind, is that you call yourself a leader. I mean, you seriously dont grasp the daily challenges that combat vets face. 22 a day dont survive those challeges. Why dont you go deliver some idiotic “im a former SFC, be a man and challenge yourself” speech to guys who have severe anxiety and depression that literally inhibits ther abilities to readjust or function on a daily basis. Feel free to tell them that they are just a bunch of spoiled kids. Im sure they will just eat up the fact that you get some anxiety in public… Especially since you use that as a meams to put yourself on par with them.

    I can appreciate the point, but sorry buddy. Youre making a broad generalization about alot of guys who struggle and find themselves in challenges that you clearly dont understand.

    Hey its your opinion and youre entitled to that. Its my opinion that calling this generation of warriors, a bunch of “entitled, look at me, video gaming, leeches” just makes you a fuckin asshat. Not a leader.

    • Toby Nunn

      April 15, 2015 at 2:33 pm

      Eric, Thanks for the feedback. I actually do give this talk/speech at a couple different programs most of which are residential and understand that they do require more. I am not belittling or dogging those with PTSD just those that walk around with their hand out asking for things because they served. As a non profit exec both nationally and at state levels and lobbying for Veteran issues the majority of those reaching out are asking for something. This was directed towards them not the real Brothers and Sisters suffering. I am an Asshat at times apparently my intent was not communicated properly.

  4. Drea Mo

    April 16, 2015 at 8:18 am

    All true, I am a veteran and I work at a non-profit looking to “help” veterans. We must also talk about why non-profits are popping up everywhere, looking to “help” veterans. They too are part of the problem, they exploit veterans and remind veterans they are victims. These non-profit and NGOs really do not help anyone but themselves (to government grants etc..). At the end of the day they send vets home with a key chain and they obtain that additional body to prove they “help” vets.

  5. Mason

    April 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    I think this article is being largely taken out of context. I have no clue who the OP is, but he does bring up some valid points, all be it misunderstood ones.

    As a combat veteran myself (OIF, 11b / 35L) I can attest to the permanent damage that combat causes, both physically, and above all, mentally. I am almost done with my BS in ISS. However, I work with the VSO at the VA hospital and I am honestly offended at how many people are claiming PTSD. I have had someone try to claim PTSD for enduring a loud explosion from a propane tank in Kuwait ( this is actually how he received his CIB). And yet another veteran that never deployed, that claims he has PTSD from living with his father that has PTSD. Seriously!! no joke. Not every single person that deploys gets PTSD. I know hundreds of fobbits that have no trace of it.

    What I think the OP is meaning that there are far to many people claiming to have PTSD that may not actually have it to the extent that they are portraying. What this does is tax the VA healthcare system even more than it already is, and makes the veterans that due actually have legitimate issues, have insanely long wait times for appointments. We have some vets at our facility that are waiting 6 months for appointments. This is unacceptable.

    I know that there will be someone that is offended with what I am saying. The truth hurts. yes I have PTSD, I take Zyprexa. PTSD is what you have, NOT who you are. As a veteran you are used to making choices between what is right, and what is easy. Every veteran I work with is diagnosed with PTSD. And every veteran I work with is pursuing some sort of higher education. I know this because they are workstudies, and have to be enrolled in school to have the benefit.

    As I stated before, I do not think the OP had intent to offend any wounded warrior. Only to cast light on the issue that the programs that were created to help wounded warriors, are being misused by those that could easily get buy without them.

  6. Warpig3

    April 17, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    I agree with almost everything here. The only thing I disagree with is the not joining the VFW or Legion. In my areas the halls are full of old timers, the next closest guy in age to me is over 25 years older than me and I’m 30. I have nothing against that, and actually checked them out. The issue is having nothing in common other than service, the generation gap is too great. Instead I have formed a group (kind of like a milita but not serious) that includes civillians and some vets. We get geared up, go to the range, and train. Not all of us have a post where we fit in near by.

  7. Fred Tapia

    April 17, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    I’m a Lifer as well Toby. US ARMY 88-10 SFC. I think there are generational differences. You are an Old school SFC. Do your job be a quiet professional. Why do you care if the younger generation of Veterans wear Merica caps, Motivational Military Veteran tshirts. 5-11gear military sleeve tattoos. American civilians need a daily reminder that GWOT has over 9,500 deaths and 22 suicides a day. Ease up Big Sarge. Go to a an American high school and observe the fact that they live in a much different upbringing than you or I had. The kids are Given everything without working for anything. This translates into The current military mind set. Generation Spoiled brats. I bet you are not a Member of the closed group OIF/OEF Nation? I love that group over any VFW, AL, VA, I get monthly activities offers from WWP. To go on diving trips to Florida, Fishing boat trips Disney world with family trips. Real shit that doesn’t cost me a penny. You know where the funds come from? The logo sells itself. Call me anytime Think you have good and bad ideas of what you have seen by some maybe exaggerating young Veterans that pissed you off. Take care of your back and knees you 11B. Toby 970.586.8133

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