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Do military spouses qualify as veterans, too?

Dustin told me not to write about military spouses forVeterans Day, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I understand Dustin’s concern: when one holiday is confused with another, such as when people erroneously recognize my husband and other living veterans on Memorial Day, all the tributes become diluted. Also, according to Dustin, some might think I’m being disrespectful for writing about spouses of veterans on Veterans Day. Veterans Day is for veterans and Military Spouse Appreciation Day is for military spouses. But, did anyone get a three-day weekend on Military Spouse Appreciation Day? Does anyone outside of military spouses know when Military Spouse Appreciation Day is?

I didn’t think so.

There is a reason why at every reenlistment, change of command or retirement ceremony I’ve ever been to that the spouse receives recognition and, sometimes, flowers. There is a reason why service members always thank their spouse when they reflect back on their careers. Being in the military affects the entire family.

When you see a veteran, you can be sure there is a “veteran” spouse, family and/or children supporting him or her. These veterans don’t get a nationally recognized three-day weekend, but they serve just the same.

Most of us are aware of what service-member veterans have given for our country, but the sacrifices of their spouses—sacrifices that contribute to the service member being able to carry out their duties— sometimes go unnoticed. So for Veterans Day, and despite my husband’s better judgement, I want to thank the person behind the veteran, the military-spouse veteran.

Military-spouse veterans have given up careers. It’s not complaining or being sour when military spouses point out that they have put their careers or higher education on hold due to frequent moves. It’s just the truth. The government knows this is a sacrifice, and that’s why divorced spouses are entitled to a portion of the service member’s retirement if they were married for at least 10 years of that member’s service. Ten years of military marriage is 10 years that a spouse probably lost in building his or her own career and retirement. Ten years of military marriage is a commitment beyond matrimony; it’s a commitment to understanding their your spouse’s obligations are sometimes to our country first, and then then to your family. It’s hard to be selfish when you’re married to the military.

Military-spouse veterans have done a lot of waiting. By the time my parents had been married for 23 years, my dad had accumulated 11 years of active-duty sea time. That’s basically half their marriage, and it means that my mom did a lot of single-parenting and waiting. With deployments increasing in frequency and length, today’s military spouses are spending even more time without their loved one. And the most difficult part about this process is that military spouses have no choice in it (outside of the fact that they fell in love with someone who happens to work for Uncle Sam). Uncle Sam does not ask for spouses’s approval to deploy a ship or unit. Furthermore, Uncle Sam has notoriously bad timing, and he doesn’t send people home when their spouse is in labor or their kids have pneumonia. Military spouses accept this, and (here’s the best part), they carry on anyway.

Military-spouse veterans take care of the sick and injured. More and more service members are returning home wounded. Their injuries are physical and emotional, and no one knows this better than the spouses. The military has a commitment to care for our wounded veterans, but it is the spouse who shoulders most of the responsibility. They are the ones who are waiting in hospital and rehab hallways or relocating their families to be closer to better care. Long after Uncle Sam has done what he can to get these service members back to better health, the spouses will live with the aftermath on a daily basis. They rise to the challenge of new responsibilities as nurse, advocate and counselor.

Military-spouse veterans sometimes give everything. My friend Theresa should have welcomed home her Navy pilot husband, Landon, from a deployment this month. Instead, she was having his funeral. She is living in a city that Uncle Sam chose for her 3,000 miles away from her family. She has two young sons, one of whom was just born four months ago. The military will have a memorial for Landon, and it will care financially for Theresa and her boy. But the military cannot bring back what my friend has lost.

On Memorial Day 2014, Landon will be in the forefront of our minds as we think about those who have died for our country. But this year, on Veterans Day, I remember Theresa and so many other spouses who have given some or all in support of the person they love who happens to work for Uncle Sam.

 

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