“Somebody Had It Harder Than Me.”

There are a few phrases that I just can’t stand. “Yeah, but…” is near the top of that list.

As an advocate, I have heard it used hundreds of times by all kinds of people to prevent themselves even the most basic of human decency.

When it comes to mental health – and for former servicemembers, accessing veterans benefits – “Yeah, but…” is followed quickly by “somebody had it harder than me.”

I once sat down with a prominent elected official. During the course of our conversation, the topic of veterans benefits came up. I asked the official – a veteran himself – how he handled accessing these benefits in his own life given his busy schedule. “I don’t,” he said. “I didn’t really do anything in uniform.”

I was shocked. There is no “must have to prove your usefulness” or “must have been shot at” requirements to access veterans benefits! Failing to access the benefits you have earned means there will be fewer available for the veterans who come after you.

The excuse “somebody had it harder than me” is a pernicious fallacy that prevents too many from seeking the mental health care and benefits they have rightfully earned. Some veterans believe their struggles pale in comparison to what others went through, so they avoid claiming benefits or opening up to a therapist. They implicitly compare the realities of modern military service to a competition, as if only the “winner” deserves support.

Nothing could be further from the truth. From a military perspective, each job (or Military Occupational Specialty, MOS) has intrinsic and equal value. There is a culture of “operators” looking down at “support” personnel, but the truth is that without every single supporting person, operators could not train, deploy, and come home safely to complain. Every military occupation is essential.

Furthermore, every military occupational setting has the potential to create pain and trauma. And the hard truth is: trauma is trauma. Trauma acquired from a firefight is not better or worse than trauma acquired from years of a tyrannical, toxic workplace or experiencing sexual assault. Each person has a threshold for pain, and once you exceed yours, the degrees of suffering become irrelevant. A breakdown is a breakdown, regardless of the cause. Mental wounds do not discriminate.

Avoiding care out of some misplaced sense of weakness or inconvenience is shortsighted and counterproductive. Your feelings and needs matter, even if they seem trivial in the grander scheme. Do not fall for the false choice between being “strong” and taking care of yourself. Vulnerability and strength can co-exist.

There are also civilians who make the same grievous mistake. Any struggle, from trauma to loss to chronic illness, is worthy of support. Do not compare sorrows or make suffering a competition. Any pain that disrupts your life deserves attention and accommodation.

When in doubt, reach out. There is no penalty for doing so; no boogeyman waiting on the other end of the line to use this information against you. Self-care should never be an afterthought or a sign of defeat. Fight the urge to ignore your needs out of a misplaced scarcity mindset or unjustified shame. You matter, and your wellbeing must be the priority. Your struggles are valid and they deserve care.


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