A small gesture can go a long way.

Because gratitude is so important, it stands out when we devote time and mental energy to crafting our thank-you messages. And even though we all know that saying thank you is meant to make one another feel good, it isn’t always that way with Veterans.

For recently returning Veterans who are still in transition, receiving a “thank you for your service” may not always be simple.  Sometimes the Veteran just isn’t familiar with the simple “thank you” just yet, or maybe they are apprehensive about the gesture because they may think that it may be followed up by more questions about combat experience.

Sometimes the response may be awkward, silent, overly appreciated, or simply received with the same “thank you” in return.  Knowing what to say or not to say is important for welcoming home our warriors in transition.

We asked a few OIF/OEF Veterans at the Marion VA Medical Center on how they feel about being thanked for their service.  We discovered some common themes and developed a list of alternatives to saying “thank you for your service” to our returning Veterans.

Gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes.
Eddie Brooks, Army Veteran

“When somebody knows that I’m a Veteran and they say thank you for your service I feel honored and know that they appreciate what myself and other Veterans who fought to keep their freedom established.”

Krista Wright Elliot, Navy Veteran

“It sometimes throws me off when someone says that to me. Partially because of the environment I work in and all my patients are Vets and older than me …  It’s not till I’m participating in an event for Veterans that I stop and think of it in the ‘first person’ so to speak. The question itself doesn’t bother me, it’s nice that people still say the statement, but I often wonder if people grasp the meaning of the statement.  In response, I normally just say ‘Thank you.’  When someone says thank you for your service are they saying it because they think it’s the right thing to do or is it heartfelt?”

Don Harder, Marine Corps Veteran

“It’s nice to hear, but can also feel awkward.  I actually had one lady follow me for like five miles until I pulled over into a gas station just so she could say thank you for your service and tried to pay for my gas.  It was nice to feel appreciated, but awkward as hell.  Now, I just say ‘thank you for the support’ and go about my day, it’s just a part of life now.  It’s nice when you’re out and someone buys you a beer, but only when it’s a family member of a Servicemember either deployed or killed, and I always ask to know more about their loved one.”

Eean Chappell, Army Veteran

“I know a lot of Veterans that say it bothers them. For me I just respond with “Anytime.’  I am not offended. I would rather get the appreciation than the manner in which soldiers like my uncles got returning from Vietnam. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

Carlos Loera, USMC Veteran

“For a while it used to bother me. I’ve never been one to accept pats on the back well. It was like: you don’t have to thank me. I wanted to do it and I was happy to do it. Now I just say ‘welcome’ and ‘thanks for your appreciating all Servicemembers. But at first, it was hard for me to accept the fact that random strangers wanted to thank me.”

Michael Desormmeaux, Army Veteran

“It gives me a sense of pride that I did something that the average citizen is thanking me for. At first it was strange, but I got used to it. And no, I don’t accept any gifts of any kind. To me I was just doing my job.”

Alan Karas, Marine Corps Veteran

“It makes me a little uncomfortable.  Since I spent my whole enlistment in Okinawa, I never deployed to a combat zone, so sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve it, at least as much as combat Vets do.  A lot of the time, though, it’s more of, I didn’t enlist for the recognition. I don’t think I really did anything extraordinary, just something necessary.”

Daniel Perritt, Navy Veteran

“Typically when people thank me for my service, I thank them for thanking. Most people wouldn’t understand what it was like to be in though. They don’t know what we went through or how mundane a lot of life was. A Veteran thanking another Veteran is different than civilians for me because it really is an automatic reaction these days – people feel obligated to thank us for stuff they have no clue about because it’s socially accepted. What they’re failing to understand is that each and every one of us did our service for our own reason. So when someone thanks me, they’re not really asking the important question of ‘How was service, and how do you feel about completing it?'”

Sam Hoekstra, Army Veteran

“When I first got home, I just didn’t really know how to respond other than maybe say, ‘thank you’ or ‘thank you for your support.’  I didn’t think I felt like I really made a difference.  It was just still kind of sinking in that you just deployed, and you know you volunteered, so a part of me just didn’t know how to respond. Now that I have been home for ten years, people still thank me and I say “you’re welcome” or thank them for their support.”

Alternatives to saying “thank you”

Combined, the thanks we give and receive improve our mental health and relationships.  If you do not feel that simply saying “thank you for your service” is enough, or you want to explore different gestures, there are a few other ways to show your appreciation for our Veterans.  Below are a few alternatives to getting to know the Veterans in your community:

  • Volunteer at an event focused on helping Veterans
  • If you know a Veteran, write a simple postcard or e-card that recognizes them
  • Make donations to non-profit Veterans organizations
  • Visit a Veteran at your local hospital on a holiday or weekend
  • Get to know that Veteran by inviting them to a game of basketball or a run
  • Offering the Veteran a discount if you are a business owner/manager

Conversations “Dos and Don’ts”

If you would like to carry on a conversation with a Veteran after thanking them, but aren’t familiar with what is okay to ask, you can try some of the following questions to get to know the Veteran better:

  • What did you do in the military?
  • How long did you serve?
  • What was your favorite moment in all your time in the service?
  • Did anyone else in your family serve?
  • Why did you choose the service branch that you did?

And of course, there are DO NOTs when asking a Veteran about their service:

Do not ask if they’ve hurt anyone.  Should the Veteran be a combat Vet who is either unwilling to share or plainly states what they went through, be supportive without being intrusive. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything, just listen and give them your full attention.

Ultimately though, building a relationship with that Veteran is definitely the most effective way of saying “thank you”.  So next time you are out in the community and see a Veteran, get to know them by making small conversation with them – ease your way into a “thank you for your service.”

Williams MartinezWilliams Martinez is an OIF combat Veteran (USMC Infantry) who receives his care at VA, is the father of a beautiful little girl named Maria Belle and is a Veteran advocate in the community not only as a VA employee, but as an athletic director for Team RWB.

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Published on Mar. 23, 2016

Estimated reading time is 6.7 min.

Views to date: 798


  1. Larry Byrom April 1, 2016 at 10:52 am

    As a Vietnam vet I just say it was a honor. I enlisted knew what I was doing. I thank the V.A. evertime I leave a room in have great doctors in sacramento excellent care. Better than most in private do. I feel blessed. I remember what it was like to come home from nam being called names spit on treated like a low life. Did what had to be done to come back alive. I was a usaf combat engineer. What gets to me today is a army or marine vet will say you had it easy. No I didn’t I worked with all branches of service there we did the same job survie. Come home. Thankfully I had 3 years still to do when I came back stateside other wise I would be in prison. I was bitter 19 and never understood why I was treated that why . It took me years to come to grips. I proudly wear my Vietnam nam usaf hat/ vet hat today with navy army engineer emblems in honor of those combat engineers who never came home.
    From a wing nut

  2. Sandy Demers a true patriot. March 30, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    I read about all our Veterans and Active Military men & Women and
    Everyday I put a post on G+. They all are in my heart and soul truly.
    I mention our men & Women who gave the ultimate sacrifice and their families. I mention our soldiers with physical wounds. Those with PTSD. Our MIA’S & POW’S. .Sandy Demers

  3. Vic Mangino March 27, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Just left a very long comment only to have it deleted when I entered a valid email address and it said I didn’t. FIX YOUR SYSTEM.

    • L. Rick Tanguis March 28, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Me too.

  4. Reggie Cooper March 27, 2016 at 12:30 am

    I tell people who want to “tank me for my service” then they should contact their elected repesentitives and demand that they either straighten out the VA or get rid of it altogether.

  5. Eugene Crum March 26, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Thank you VA for giving me medication, that caused me to jerk for 48 minutes sending me to a hospital from your VA facility and having me to pay the hospital bill! Also thank you for refusing my claim 4 times & forcing me to get a lawyer to get what I am entitled to.

    Most of all I want to thank you for not killing me like the veterans in Arizona

  6. lewis cook March 26, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I am the us army and the 666 usm corp volunteer 1979 1982 who shook the hand of GOD in 1986 thus was the real reason the ww3 pending cold war ended as the tv radio british 666 hollywood nyc UN mafia will never tell you this

  7. Robert Kim Stewart March 25, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Many Thanks to all my Brothers and Sisters during the Vietnam Era conflict for those of us who’s service was off shore. Today I am finally getting some of my medical care from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. I fortunately have no complaints but for those who served and did not get appropriate care, I Honor you and hope that we all meet up in the Great Beyond. This applies to family members as well !

  8. William Poole March 25, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    I get great service from the VA. Knowing how the VA works and what they expect from veterans is part of that service. Thanks VA!

  9. Jennifer Medina March 25, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    As a veteran, I love and appreciate thank you’s. I also love and thank the VA for all their service to me.

  10. Ronald Beard March 25, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    In response to the last sentence by Krista Elliot. Why try to psychoanalyze someone who reaches out to you with a gracious compliment. Just accept it at face value.
    Personally, “I smile and say thank you, It was my honor and thank you for caring.”

  11. Luci Hunt March 25, 2016 at 11:22 am

    The VA needs to learn to thank Veterans. They killed my husband by not treating him. I am a very angry widow!

    • David Lynn Turner March 25, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Am so very sorry about the death of your husband. As a Veteran myself of 34 years, I really do appreciate all he did for the freedoms of this great nation. All Veterans thank you for being their for him during his time of need. Families of Veteran`s are very special. we thank you as well for your service and sacrifice. Thankyou!

    • Hector Mercado March 25, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      Sorry for your loss . The VA in South Texas is no better . They are very slow and don’t answer the phone .We don’t call there to be social – we call because we need service .

  12. Russell Sanderson March 25, 2016 at 10:10 am

    I used to say “Thank you for your service.” to every active duty or veteran that I could identify, until I met “Bill”. Bill was a veteran of eight mid-east combat tours; he was married and father of three, two of which were born while he was deployed. His marriage was in shambles and he couldn’t relate to his children who had “grown up” while he was gone. He didn’t know how to be a dad; as a senior NCO he only knew how to direct soldiers. That process did not work well. To compound matters Bill suffered from severe PTSD. I wish I could say that there was a successful outcome, but I don’t know. One thing I did learn is that my typical “Thank you for you service” comment became very shallow in my mind. With all due respect, I get “service” from my dry cleaner. I now say “Thank you for your SACRIFICE!”, because to me that’s what far better describes military service.

    My definition, “Sacrifice = giving up something of value for something deemed more important or having a greater value”.

    Bill, and all who may read this, thank you for your sacrifice.

    • R E Welch March 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Well said, someone now says thank you in a way that rings true.

    • DannyG March 28, 2016 at 12:13 am

      Mr. Sanderson, Sir, I have never heard “it” said more eloquently, yet so plainly. It sounds like you, sir, truly understand & appreciate America’s veterans. Thank You!
      (A few yrs ago I may have signed this comment as “Bill”)

  13. Joe Malloy March 23, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Yesterday while at Orlando Disneyland Hollywood, near the end of the day, we stopped at the Starbucks for a late coffee. The young lady serving us thanked me for my service in the USMC. When my drink arrived, she came around the counter with a large chocolate cup cake in a plastic container on which was written, “for all your service and your time proved true, here is some magic from us to you.” My sincere thanks to Alicia & the Magic Kingdom.

  14. thomas gomez sr March 23, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    its nice that you thank us all the time. but how about this. every vet that goes to a va clinic. or hospital. tell everyone that takes care of you thank you. and tell them .thanks for being for me. i really appreciate you. every time you call the va. or check on your claim say this. i have bin doing this for years. in a clinic when you say this to who ever is behind the check in counter. after you thank them. look at there face. it lights up! it makes a difference! they always smile when you thank them for being there and hear your grateful for them and you appreciate them. hey! vets. e mail the va some time and tell them the same thing. THANK YOU VA! THANK YOU FOR CARING ABOUT US! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO FOR US! THANK YOU FOR MAKING US THE BEST TREATED VETERANS IN THE WORLD! TRY THAT VETS. THANK THEM BACK !the people that take such good care of us are human to. they have feeling to. show them you know that. thank you.

    • Melanie Clark March 25, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      I do that. “Thanks for taking care of me.” I worked at the Fayetteville NC VAMC as a Work/Study employee in the File Room. Yes, the days when medical records were paper files! I suppose I am dating myself. VA employees, for the most part, do their best to care for veterans, despite bureaucratic rules and regulations.

      • DannyG March 28, 2016 at 12:05 am

        Thomas & Melanie, THANK YOU ! More of us need to be brave enough to speak out when something good happens. Treat each other with respect, & watch the changes start happening! Thank you, both for the good comments!

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