The DeMarco Project Speaks
Healthy Communication with Veterans or Veteran Family Members
By Kim J. Clark
Aka Expanding Love
What does the author mean by “healthy communication” as related to veterans and their
families? The foundation to healthy communication, as this writer understands it, means to
engage in conversation with the intent to bring meaningful dialog to the topic of discussion. It
also means to be cognizant of verbal and non-verbal cues displayed by participants and respond
accordingly to maintain a positive platform of engagement.
To interact in a healthy manner with traumatized veterans, know what your intention is. For
example, “Are you really interested in having a meaningful verbal exchange? What is your
reason for the conversation? What do you hope to gain from the interaction? Do you want to
listen to the speaker or are you waiting for the person to stop talking, so that you can get your
point across?” As basic as these questions may be, they have the potential to have a profound
effect on the “quality” of the exchange between you and the person you are talking to. Are you
presenting yourself in an honorable way?
Remember, veterans are trained professionals. They are not being “weird” when they appear
“standoffish.” Not only are they trained with combat skills, they are to conditioned to pay
attention and interpret verbal and non-verbal communication. Part of their survival in adverse
situations depended upon their ability to “read” the situation they were in. This ability not only
affected their wellbeing, but the wellbeing of their military brother and sister comrades.
In conversation, if the volume or intensity of the person’s voice goes up, that is a pretty good
indicator that you need to back off. If the person stops talking, back off. It is possible that a
traumatic memory has been triggered. Respect boundaries. Be sincere. If you don’t understand,
say so. Very simple, say, I don’t understand.” Then listen with an open heart.
If you are truly interested in honoring our military heroes, pay attention to how you show up.
Most of the veterans I have interacted with tend to be quiet when we first meet. Once they get a
“feel” for my intention, actions vs words, they then engage a bit. Over time, as trust builds, they
engage more openly.
The most powerful piece of advice this writer can offer as a tool for healthy communication with
veterans is to listen from the heart. No judgement. Value the experience. Listen and be fully
present. Pay attention to your tone. And, as always, honor and acknowledge the sacrifices made
by these courageous men and women.
Kim is the mother of a veteran who loved his country and was willing to lay his life down for the
freedoms he believed in. She is the President of The DeMarco Project, Non-profit organization.