The day I went on terminal leave was a very sad day. I loved serving in the Marine Corps. I was resigning reluctantly – the Marine Corps had shown me that I would not be able to balance married life and the family I always wanted with active military service. My husband has his own career. We wanted children and also wanted to be able to live in the same place as each other and our children.
Before going on terminal leave, I went through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) like everyone else. I was the only officer and the oldest person in the class. As a mid-30s Captain with two graduate degrees coming off of a White House Fellowship, it was hard for me to get much value from the course. TAP was aimed at 20-something junior Marines and young NCOs who were thinking about things like college and how to write their first resume. My needs were different. Although I was coming from a place of relative privilege, I still had needs.
Since I’d felt TAP was such a complete waste of time, I became convinced that the resources available to veterans were not going to help someone like me. As a female Marine, I was very used to the military’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to everything, and that “size” rarely fit me.
I was also finally out of the military, and frankly, I wasn’t super interested in reentering a sexist society where I would always feel out of place just because I’m female. When I walk through the world, I am not hyper-aware of my femaleness at all times. I can walk around in the civilian world not think “I’m the only woman here – what do these men think of me?” I could never do that in the Marine Corps. Women have even reported having PTSD from the anxiety and stress that this type of hyper-vigilance placed on them while in service. I’m grateful that I don’t currently suffer from PTSD, and I am not interested in exposing myself to more of those kinds of stressors.
So, I learned to make due without the VA and its vast resources. I had faith that I could handle what transition would throw at me on my own.
And for the most part, I did. I have a wonderful family: two perfect little boys and an amazing husband. I have a great job at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But… I also have healthcare needs and questions and I have realized that there are a lot of resources that could have helped me, and could help me in the future.
The VA did not help me overcome my apprehension. Their outreach was, frankly, silly. On November 25, 2015, my inbox flooded with emails from the VA advertising all sorts of services. I laughed, then clicked the bottom email, hit “shift,” clicked the top email, and archived them all. Who is going to root through all of those emails, sent all at once, when they are in the midst of their transition? I sincerely hope other veterans are more diligent than I was, but human nature took over for me. To me, this “outreach strategy” was another sign that the VA was definitely not for me.
So here I am. I earned benefits. I think they could really help me and my family. And yet, I stubbornly have left them on the table out of a sense of disillusionment and self-protection.
My New Years Resolution is to enroll in the VA. I hope it’s not too late, and I hope I wasn’t right for avoiding it for this long.