According to the latest statistics, there are more than 18 million veterans in the United States, and every year, on November 11, their families, together with regular individuals, gather to honor their service.
Veteran’s Day is, without a doubt, one of the most important national celebrations and simply showing up to one of the parades is a great way of saying thanks for their effort and sacrifice.
However, if you’re deeply invested in the lives and veterans and you’d like to help them throughout the entire year, there are many ways you can do that. Here are a few of them:
1. Donate or volunteer for a veteran organization
Although they make great sacrifices of the country, the interests and wellbeing of veterans aren’t always well represented in legislation. In spite of national programs that support the financial, emotional, and social rehabilitation of veterans, it’s often up to NGOs to militate for their rights and launch campaigns for veterans and their families.
There are hundreds of military NGOs in the U.S., and if you want to contribute to their cause, donating is one of the best ways to do so, since they can always use more funds. One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about donations is that small contributions don’t make any difference, but they do. Even if you decide to donate $10 instead of buying a coffee, your effort is still appreciated.
Don’t know what organization to start with? You can use this platform from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to find out what organizations there are in your regions and ways you can help. For example, you can support a charity that sends care packages to veterans, one of that helps them recover from PTSD, or you can even sponsor a service puppy that will help a veteran recover.
If you are unable to donate, but this cause stands close to your help, you can get involved by volunteering. Many NGOs are severely understaffed, so don’t hesitate to inquire at your local VA office about volunteering opportunities such as delivering food boxes to veterans or helping organize a veteran event.
2. Listen and share veteran stories
The stories of veterans can be emotional, empowering, patriotic, and heartbreaking. More people need to hear them. If you know someone who has been in the military, take the time to talk to them and ask them about their service.
Don’t be pushy and by any means don’t ask them if they ever shot someone or if they lost a friend on a mission. Simply open the subject, listen, and be supportive. You’ll learn things that war movies often fail to mention and you’ll get a better understanding of what they’re going through.
And if their stories touched you in any way, share them, because no matter how much coverage Veteran’s Day gets, many people are still unaware of the struggles that the former military face.
Start a blog, write a post on social media about it, wear a T-shirt supporting a veteran cause, watch a patriotic movie with the entire family, or simply share a story with a friend. If you have children, encourage them to do a presentation for school featuring patriotic music and one of the stories that impressed them the most. It might seem like a minor gesture, but it’s essential to educate the younger generation in a spirit of respect for veterans.
3. Visit a veteran in a nursing home
After years of service, veterans deserve to come back home and grow old with dignity, surrounded by their loved ones. However, this an idyllic scenario that only happens for a fortunate few. In many cases, veterans have to live in nursing homes because they have lost contact with their families or because they have sustained serious injuries.
Conditions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have improved a lot in recent years, but the veterans here often live in loneliness, haunted by the worst memories of their service. Donations are always welcome, but if you want to make a veteran’s day better, visit them in a nursing home.
Most institutions have volunteering programs where you can spend a day with a veteran or take them to lunch. It might seem a bit awkward, spending time with someone you’ve never met, but senior veterans appreciate every visit and they’ll love sharing their experiences with you.
4. Be mindful of homeless veterans
After a life of service, many veterans are unable to readapt in society and experience social and economic hardships. Combined with the other challenges of expended deployments, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and poor relations with family members, this can lead to homelessness. Since 2011, the number of homeless veterans has dropped by nearly 50%, which is an improvement, but still, more than 37,000 veterans live without shelter on a single night. Ending homelessness among veterans can be complicated, especially when it comes to addressing the emotional and psychological factors that lead to it.
However, if you want to help veterans on the streets, one phone call can make a difference. If you know a veteran that is either homeless or in a sensitive financial situation, call your local VA association (most of them have 24/7 hotlines) and let them know. They can help veterans access supportive housing programs, rapid re-housing, or transitional housing. To combat the problem long-term and prevent them from returning on the streets, they also have employment programs, substance use counseling, and therapy services.