When I tell people what I do for a living, the first question I’m asked is whether I served. I did not. My fiancé did. Some of best friends did. My grandfather, my great-grandfather, and many of my relatives did. But I did not. However, just because I didn’t serve, doesn’t mean that Veterans Day is not an incredibly meaningful day to me. While there are some aspects of military service that I will never personally understand, I have spent most of my career working to promote awareness and empathy for the veteran-experience. Although some people will always criticize me for my own lack of service, I remind them that we need people like me to help bridge the current divide between civilians and soldiers by representing the civilian perspective. This is why I founded Riley-Topping Consulting, and what we strive to do every day.
Veterans Day took on a new significance in my life when my grandfather, a veteran of the World War II era, passed away on Veterans Day in 2007. At that point in time, I was a recent law school graduate who didn’t have a job and didn’t feel like I had a purpose in life. Knowing how much his service meant to him, I channeled my emotional grief into learning more about the veteran-experience and what I could do to honor it. Sure enough, the veterans community was full of people who understood what it was like to go through a tough transition, what it felt like to experience a painful emotional loss, and where to turn to find a sense of direction. As a result of the support I received from the veterans community, I applied for a job as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and, as fate would have it, I was hired shortly thereafter.
Since that time, I have worked to improve laws and policies that effect veterans and veterans-programs at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, and now at Riley-Topping Consulting. I love what I do, and there’s no better day than today to share that message.
As a civilian and a non-veteran, it’s important to remember that Veterans Day is so much more than a day off from work, a day full of retail-sales promotions, and day to say “thank you for your service” without fully understanding what that service entails. (As a point of reference, I just googled “Veterans Day” in the news portion of my browser, and the first several headlines are “Veterans Day 2015 Freebies: restaurant and business deals.” You have to scroll about half way down the page before finding more substantive discussions regarding the history of Veterans Day and opinions on how to best honor those who served.)
So, what does Veterans Day mean to me? It means the day when I decided to turn my life around and dedicate my life to serving the men and women who served our country. A day when I was inspired by the life and the service of a member of “the greatest generation” and hoped that someday, I could be fortunate enough to inspire others the same way. In my opinion, this is one of the best qualities veterans have – the ability to uplift and inspire those around them in subtle but profound ways. I may not be a veteran, but I am so thankful for the veterans I have in my life and what they have taught me.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?