National Day of Listening to Veterans

Posted in Uncategorized on November 24, 2017

A handful of hospitals within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical community recently began an experimental program called "My Story," that set up “interviews” with veterans receiving treatment. A volunteer writer spends about 30 minutes one-on-one with a veteran receiving treatment, then compiles the interview answers into a life story that is then included in the veteran’s medical chart. This brief overview gives the veteran’s medical providers the chance to get a full picture of the person they’re treating in a way that the brief encounters held in doctors' offices and hospital rooms could not.National Day of Listening to Veterans

As an unexpected result of the project, both writers and veterans experienced the rewards of listening to someone’s life experiences, and conversely, sharing one’s own story. Soon, even the doctors were creating their own “life story” overviews to provide their patients to give them more perspective on who was treating them, as well.

National Day of Listening

The benefits of sharing one’s own story – or listening to the life perspective of someone else – has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. Before man could effectively record his history on paper, lessons were passed down verbally through the generations, sharing not only interesting tales and origins, but life-preserving lessons and teachings.

Today, while humans seem more digitally “connected” than ever, person-to-person interactions seem to be waning. However, organizations like StoryCorps are working to ensure that people still take the time to sit down in person and ask insightful questions of family and friends, and record them for posterity. The National Day of Listening, held annually the day after Thanksgiving, is one of the main rallying points for their efforts.

For family members and friends of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, participating in the National Day of Listening can be especially important and meaningful.

Many veterans, especially the older generations who returned from combat decades ago, were ready to reintegrate into the civilian world and workforce as quickly as possible. Many had married young and returned to a family that needed to be supported; sharing that much of what they saw or experienced just didn’t have a place in their civilian life. Others, like those in the Vietnam era, returned to an angry homeland. Sadly, many soldiers bore the brunt of protests, even being spat upon at as they deplaned at their airports. They never received a heroes’ welcome, and needless to say, never had a venue to share. Today, younger veterans are returning home, unable or unsure how to share life-changing experiences in a world where life seemed to have continued on, unaware of what was going on across an ocean.

Ways to Interview a Veteran

The National Day of Listening can be the perfect opportunity to connect to a veteran you care about, giving him or her a chance to share what they want about their life – including their time in the service – and giving you an opportunity to learn more about the veteran as a person.

The StoryCorps organization encourages people to sit down and record a brief “interview” in any way possible – whether with paper and pen, a smart phone, a tape recorder or at one of their recording studios in four different cities (you can reserve a 40-minute time slot for your interview). There is also a StoryCorps app to help interviewers conduct and share stories. If you have recorded your interview digitally, you are encouraged to upload it, along with a photo of you and your veteran, to the StoryCorps Wall of Listening, and share it on social media with the tag #NationalDayofListening.

StoryCorps offers a list of great questions to help get you started when interviewing a friend or family member, covering a wide range of topics.

The list also includes a subset of questions specific to a person’s time in war, such as:

  • Did you go to war? What was it like?
  • During your service, can you recall times when you were afraid?
  • How did your military service change you?
  • What are your strongest memories from your time in the military?
  • What lessons did you learn from this time in your life?
  • When were you in the service? How many years and where were you stationed?

It’s important to remember that, when discussing topics of war, you should be especially sensitive of how your veteran is responding. Consider your questions carefully and with understanding, knowing that the veteran may or may not want to discuss certain topics or memories, and remind them that they can answer or not answer any questions as they please.

While many veterans appear to be completely fine with sharing their memories of their time in military – especially friends they made or places they travelled – certain memories may spark negative or difficult emotions. In fact, recent research has discovered a new phenomenon in older veterans called Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (LOSS) where PTSD-like symptoms appear later in life. Being sensitive to your interviewee is key to helping them share and to having a good experience on the National Day of Listening.

When you complete your interview, you will not only have a unique collection of stories to share with other friends and family members for years to come, but also have created a special new memory between you and the veteran. You can consider making it a regular appointment together and see the benefits of the time spent together, not only in gathering and recording the stories but in building your relationship in the present day.

For more information on the National Day of Listening, or how to share your interview, visit the StoryCorps website for tools and recommendations.

Written by Megan Hammons

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