Military veterans sacrifice a lot to serve our country. They not only fulfill combat roles, defending our country, but they play roles in disaster relief and humanitarian aid. They are away from their families, often in less than ideal conditions, not to mention the dangers that their service may expose them to. Our military personnel put their lives on the line, subject to the dangers of combat, bombings, disease, and toxic chemicals. Many face the death of friends and team members, witness civilian casualties, and see the results of atrocities brought on by the worst of humanity. Some suffer physical injury they may have life-long debilitating consequences, others face mental and emotional injury, that while unseen, may be just as debilitating. While there is aid available to our veterans when they return home, it is sometimes too slow in coming or too difficult to make use of. Our veterans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we should all make efforts to help veterans. While there are certainly lots of groups to donate to, from the National Veterans Association to the Wounded Warrior Project, there are other things you can do to help veterans in your area. Here are 10 ways to help veterans:
- Be a friend. Many veterans feel alone and isolated. This may be because they are old and living alone, or living in a retirement home. Like everybody else, these people want to feel appreciated and heard. They want human contact. If you have a veteran in your neighborhood who lives alone, or maybe there is a local retirement home, stop by and introduce yourself. Offer to watch the game, play cards, do a puzzle, or share a meal. Then set up a time to do it again. Make it a regular thing. This type of interaction can be life-changing, not just for the person you visit, but for yourself. Keep in mind, not everyone is comfortable sharing their experience in the military, so asking for war stories may be touchy. Talk to them about their entire life, and if they want to share about their military experience, they will.
- Volunteer to drive. For a lot of veterans, they are dependent on using VA (Veterans Administration) facilities. These may not be convenient or easily accessible to veterans due to age, disability, or even the lack of reliable transportation. For some veterans, not getting the help they need is directly due to a lack of transportation. If you know a vet who is in need of transportation, offer to drive them. This will make the experience easier for the veteran, decrease stress, and provide company along the way. If you don’t know a veteran in need, but would like to help, there are organizations that help provide transportation. The VA has a volunteer transportation network to assist in connecting drivers and veterans. Get more information about the VA driving program here. A non-profit group called DAV, also uses volunteer drivers to help get veterans to medical and counseling appointments. You can find out more about DAV here.
- Assist a veteran at home. Some veterans, due to age or disability, may need assistance at home. You can volunteer to help out by doing yard work, cleaning gutters, watering plants, repairing windows, painting, or assisting in other household tasks. Some communities have arranged groups that descend upon the home of a veteran and do a group project, fixing things around the house and cleaning up the yard. Other veterans might need help with technology- setting up their tv, dealing with the internet, setting up an email. There are all kinds of things that somebody can offer a veteran- you don’t have to have special skills, just a willingness to help.
- Build a veteran a home. Unlike just helping out around the home, this one requires at least some basic skills in the building arts, whether it’s carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, or sheetrocking. People with skills in home building can volunteer those skills to help build homes for veterans. Two organizations (and there may be more in your area) Building Homes for Heroes and Homes for Our Troops utilize people in the building trades to build homes for veterans. You can volunteer your skills or even donate materials to help these causes. People who don’t have these skills can donate money, materials, or even land.
- Volunteer at your VA facility. Sometimes all you have to give is your time, and that can be an incredible gift. VA facilities are underfunded and understaffed. There are volunteer positions open that can be anything from helping clean up to clerical work, to simply sitting and talking to veterans. You can contact your nearest VA facility directly for volunteer opportunities or you can get connected through DAV, which helps link up volunteers with veteran programs. You can find the nearest VA facility here.
- Help feed a veteran. You can find different ways to help veterans by providing food. This may be inviting a veteran to dinner, or bringing dinner or cookies over to the veteran. A home-cooked meal and some company can be a very welcome occasion for somebody who might be socially isolated. Share the meal and your time. Some veterans are experiencing food insecurity or even homelessness. You can help provide food directly to these people or help organize a food drive or a lunch sack program to help feed our veterans who might be experiencing food insecurity. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, as many of those who need such assistance, have served in the military. Get creative- identify a problem you can help with and then figure out what you can do to help solve that problem.
- Have your pet help out. There are all kinds of research and study on the impact animals can have on people suffering from both mental and physical injury or illness. Animals can provide joy and comfort and can even provide people some relief from their suffering. In Episode 17 and 32, we talk about Caleb Smith and his comfort bunnies, that he uses to help people deal with trauma. Your pet, assuming he or she is well-behaved enough, may bring some happiness to a veteran. Whether it’s a dog or a cat, or a bunny, you might be able to share some of your pet’s love with another person.
- Be a modern pen pal. For you young’uns, there used to be a thing called pen pals, which is where two people would exchange letters (like emails, but on paper and delivered through the mail). You could still do this if you were to find someone who still writes letters, but you can also update it for modern times. You can exchange texts or emails with a veteran, and be an online friend. You can take it a step further and play games online, whether it be chess or Overwatch. More and more seniors are getting into gaming and there are lots of veterans who are already part of the gaming community. Make a vet or a bunch of vets a regular part of your online community.
- Volunteer at a charity for veterans or a veteran organization. Like the VA, veteran organizations exist to help support veterans in all kinds of ways. These groups are largely run on donations and volunteers. Different groups provide different resources and assistance to veterans. Find something you can do- answer phones, contribute to a newsletter, help veterans fill out health care forms, do filing, teach a class on cooking, help vets file their taxes, give free haircuts- there are so many ways you can help. Veteran organizations are desperately in need of volunteers. There is something you can do, even if you don’t know it yet.
- Be a voice for veterans. Jon Stewart from Episode 31 was a voice for the first responders on 9/11 who risked their lives to save others and were exposed to toxic materials causing all kinds of health issues. He went to Congress and embarrassed them into action, extending the health care assistance for those first responders for 70 more years. Now he is doing it for American veterans. He is pushing for legislation to make sure that the Veterans Administration covers health care costs for veterans who were exposed to toxins during their service. Now you may not have the platform Jon Stewart has, but you can make sure your voice is heard. Support legislation that protects and helps our veterans. Campaign for changes to ensure veterans are protected. Push for legislation that supports homeless veterans and provides veterans with addiction and mental health treatment. Vote. Get the word out. Write your congress member. Organize a letter campaign. Speak at town halls. Be a voice of change. Be a voice of support. Be a voice of love.
PHOTO CREDIT: Manny Becerra