Turns out, while most veterans appreciate a stranger saying “thank you” for their service, it can also be a bit uncomfortable. I wonder how these same guys feel about the “Have you thanked a veteran today?” bumper stickers.

I’ve been thanking veterans for a long time. Sometimes, not as consistently as I’d like to because this doctor gig really means that I have to remember a large number of things. Since I began working in the medical marijuana field, where the veterans I meet are paying for a service, I reach out a little extra. I tell them “Thank you, sir or ma’am, for serving this great nation.” Then, I usually admit to the fact that I am a veteran, too.

There is generally a sense of “we understand each other.” Sometimes, there’s even a discussion of certain feelings, like the moment of “in-processing” when the dog tags are first issued and you have to tell what kind of funeral you want. If the dog tags are the only way to identify you, it is of minimal comfort to know your country will try to get you the burial you desire. We laugh together about how dehumanized we felt and how poorly we were treated. After all, people who have never been in the military may not realize how the loss of civil rights that comes with being in the military can cramp one’s style quite seriously. We hug and sometimes sing, although I hate “As the Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Regardless, it is often a sharing experience.

In general, I convince veterans to make sure they are introduced as such to other clinic personnel, whom I have instructed to thank veterans as I do. Most veterans say they enjoy being thanked, and they feel worthwhile, and in general, they think this is a good thing. A few have declined. Often¸ they are criminal types who spent most of their military time in the brig or AWOL, and have such low self-esteem I make damn sure they’re screened for suicidality.

Some shrug their shoulders and say they were just “doing the duty I was trained for.” The communal training of military is such that they are desensitized; the chanting, the group identity stops them from feeling immediate fear. Sometimes it leaves people a bit numb. One of the bothersome things about medicine, as well as life in general, is this tendency to group people together.

All veterans deserve thanks. There is nothing in the world like being a young and fit person and having to tell what kind of a funeral you want. There are many other unpleasant feelings one can have being in the military, such as missing certain aspects of home, or feeling exhausted after rigorous physical exercise. For me, going through the first one alone is enough. Thanks are not ill placed here. Some of the other things, like paying for someone’s groceries because they are in uniform, might be a bit much. Maybe asking someone “Is there anything you need?” or even offering to chat or mailing a card later would be good. The communication, the asking, is the important part. The personalization is a good thing, because wearing a uniform can be very depersonalizing. Even asking a person in a fast food restaurant “Are you stationed near here?” can make someone happy. Your whole existence is focused on what we used to call the “green monkey suit.” Even a question like “What do you guys do for fun?” can be amazing.

The lack of perceived domestic support for the Vietnam War seems to have played a part in the high rates of PTSD from that conflict. After Vietnam, I remember visiting the Department of Psychiatry at the Presidio Hospital in San Francisco. Afterward, I went to visit the downtown and a hippie spit on me. Some of my most moving moments spent with veterans were with Vietnam veterans who had been similarly treated. You never know how you are going to be treated until you speak. So, speak. Speak to veterans. I think all Americans should thank them. I, for one, will continue to do so.

Author's Bio: 

Estelle Toby Goldstein, MD is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in San Diego, CA.

Practicing Medicine Since 1981

In her medical career, she has studied in Europe and Canada as well as the USA. She has attended specialty training beyond medical school in the fields of general surgery, neurology and neurosurgery and psychiatry (specializing in psychopharmacology).

Experienced In Many Situations

She has worked in a variety of positions, including:
■Medical school professor
■General and Orthopedic surgeon
■Brain surgeon
■Army Medical Corps psychiatrist
■Prison psychiatrist
■Community Mental Health Center staff
■Consultant to a major transplant hospital
■Drug researcher

“Whatever It Takes!”

She currently has her own indepenent clinic in San Diego where she is concentrating on what she calls Mind/Body medicine — or Integrative Medicine. Her practice is cash-only, doesn’t accept insurance or government payments, and she operates on the concierge, or “private doctor” practice model to give her patients the absolute best quality of care and the highest level of confidentiality.

Dr. Goldstein’s philosophy is “Whatever It Takes!” Her goal is to do everything possible to solve whatever problem she is presented. This includes seeing patients as quickly as possible — not making them wait weeks for an appointment. This includes making appointments days, nights, weekends or holidays. This includes making house-calls. And it includes using the best, most innovative treatments available — most of which are unknown to standard, mainstream doctors.

Her focus is on transitioning patients away from prescription drugs and onto natural substances. She is also a master practitioner of Emotional Freedom Technique, a powerful and dynamic form of energy psychology that usually brings quicker results than traditional psychotherapy.