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Make The Connection  connects Veterans, their family members and friends, and other advocates with  mental health information local resources , and  inspiring stories of recovery . Visitors can find reliable information on how to cope with challenges such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, and transitioning from service. The site is free and accessible to everyone.

Veteran’s Support: “Stupid Questions”

By Harold “Doc” Martin, Ph.D.

Teachers often encourage in-class participation by saying, ”There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” For veterans, this homily is undercut by the fact that there really are some stupid questions. Over the last 10 years that I have been teaching a veteran transition course (“Boots to Books”) at Pasadena City College, I have found it useful to specifically focus on stupid questions veterans are too frequently asked.
Vets often reenter the civilian world with higher than average levels of anger and anxiety. This is not helped by inquiries which can serve as triggers for unwanted emotion or simply add to the host of annoyances that interfere with readjustment. Within my curriculum designed to promote emotional intelligence and personal growth, stupid questions become the catalyst for constructively dealing with oneself as well as others.
At the very least, my inviting veterans to share the stupidest questions they’ve been asked about their military service opens them up to a lively exchange. Humor is one of the best tools with which to deal with frustration, and one of the great traits shared by most veterans. Who isn’t amused when a male veteran is asked if he has “PMS” when the questioner meant to ask about “PTSD?” How about being asked, ”Was it hot in Iraq?” or “So you’re a Marine, what’s the Army like?” or “Being on a Navy ship sounds like fun; is it like a cruise ship?” or “Was Afghanistan nice? Did you date anyone there?” However, no one particularly wants to be asked if they’d “Ever killed someone?” or “Do you have friends who committed suicide?” or “You probably think you’re better than us non-veteran students” or “Was it all (sacrifice, duty, etc.) for nothing?” or “Were you raped?” or “Why do you support the killing of innocent people?”
I use these and numerous other inquiries as examples of how a veteran can gain mastery over potentially disturbing encounters. My student veterans are instructed to anticipate uncomfortable questions (they will be asked again!) and to prepare and rehearse a repertoire of responses, social ‘rules of engagement,’ instead of walking away or turning to anger. Empathy is cultivated through an appreciation of the various motives for asking stupid questions, e.g., while some people do mean to offend, most innocently lack the barest understanding of the military sub-culture. A properly measured response can turn an awkward moment into a learning experience by averting alienation and replacing it with mutual understanding. Moreover, a veteran’s inclination toward self-control is enhanced and rewarded. The exercise underscores the fact that normalization of encounters with civilians usually takes place incrementally one step at a time.
More importantly, within the context of a growth mindset, these “stupid questions” are opportunities for embracing emotional discomfort rather than fleeing from it and simply holding anger in. Defeating social avoidance with engaged self-control, rather than impulsivity, can be one of the hallmarks of a transition course designed to promote mindfulness on the road back to mainstream society.



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