If I see one more headline, one more article, one more empty talking head refer to Wade Michael Page as a Veteran, I just might explode.
There are certain connotations that go with being called a Veteran. This is a person who solemnly swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They took this oath and signed on the dotted line, in peace time or in a time of war of their own free will.
Whatever their motivation for doing so, once they did there were certain standards of behavior that were expected of them whether they were wearing the uniform at that moment or not. They understood they were no longer an individual, but representative of something larger than themselves and further, represented the whole of us, the United States people.
This service is worthy of recognition, whether it occurred last week, last year or forty years ago. They completed their term of service and were discharged from the military with the thanks of a grateful nation. This is called an Honorable Discharge.
Those who somewhere along the way during their term of service proved themselves to be less than honorable, less than capable of following the strict and difficult lifestyle that is expected of any member of the Armed Forces can receive either a General discharge or a Other Than Honorable discharge. The difference between the two as significant as is the difference between either and a Honorable discharge.
A General discharge is given when the service member’s performance is generally satisfactory, but conduct and performance is below what is expected. Sometimes, this is through no fault of the service member, such as due to medical issues, though it usually is for disciplinary issues. The service member receives, in writing, the cause and charges and must sign a statement that states they understand they may face discrimination in civilian life for receiving a General discharge. If the reason is Medical, that is clearly stated in the discharge order and is usually not considered disgraceful in either the military or civilian worlds.
Other Than Honorable is a completely different thing. Anyone who receives this discharge has a choice to either accept it or to request a hearing by an administrative discharge board. This is not the same as a court martial, and it is common for a service member to accept a Other Than Honorable discharge in lieu of court martial proceedings. Those proceedings generally result in sentencing to a military prison and a Other Than Honorable discharge. Not surprisingly, most who are offered the choice simply take the discharge.
In order to be eligible for a Other Than Honorable, the person typically committed a crime that has or will result in civilian charges. In addition, the person is ineligible for most benefits under the Veteran’s Administration, including housing, employment, and participation in the GI Bill. They are barred from ever reenlisting in the Armed Services or any state’s National Guard. In short, this person has forfeited the rights, accolades, special accommodations or recognition reserved for those who have served. This also means they should not be referred to as a Veteran.
To refer to Wade Michael Page as a Veteran is questionable at best. Whether or not he received a Other Than Honorable discharge has now been called into question. It has been reported that he received a General discharge, a Other Than Honorable Discharge and one source even claims he did in fact receive a Honorable discharge. What is undisputed is his service was marked by significant issues of misconduct and his rank was stripped from that of a Sergeant prior to discharge. I would understand the Army’s motivation in shedding itself of an undesirable, as he proved himself to be according to quotes of those he served with.
Do we call a disbarred lawyer a lawyer, or do we use the qualifier before the title? Do we call a doctor who has lost his license to practice medicine doctor, or do we make that fact clear by stating his license is revoked when referring to him? We do this because we do not want to smear the vast majority of those who have earned the title by including one who has so egregiously violated the standards of conduct, the laws of the land or the precepts of the profession. We even distinguish between a former, a retired and a disgraced politician, to protect the reputation of their brethren.
Service to our country is one of the noblest callings a person can answer. It is wrong not to protect the reputation of the majority for the sake of sensationalist headlines or ratings.