wwII_veteran.jpg

The Why and How of Getting Involved with Veterans

Most people will never serve in the military or receive any form of combat training in their entire lifetime. What civilians see and hear about are the glorified war stories in the form of blockbusters or the gory tales. We see the folded flags on caskets, watch the YouTube videos of dogs going into hysterics because their master has returned. We gladly tell these men and women “thank you for your service to the country,” but once veterans are back in the community, the only thanks most civilians tend to give is slapping a yellow ribbon sticker onto their bumper.

Eric recently talked about how civilians can truly “support the troops.” I honestly hope people take his words to heart, because “supporting the troops” is so much more than thinking about those men and women presently risking their lives for our national security. It also means honoring those who have served and are now reintegrating into society.

To recap on Eric’s article, he listed three things that civilians can provide:

  1. Friendship
  2. Mentorship
  3. Advocacy

How many civilians, yourself included, have actually done these things for a military vet in your community? How many of you have gotten involved with veterans in a productive and effective manner?

Unless you are from a military family or had close friends who went off to the military, you are probably like most and haven’t given returned soldiers much thought. But you really should.

Why You Should Care About Veterans

When I was a kid, I was honored to meet soldiers who had served during World War II in third grade and later aided at a local veteran center. I never asked what war was like. I didn’t have to, because I could see it in their eyes that there were some things better left unsaid. Instead, I remember talking about family, about how they spent their alone time, and other happy memories about life after WWII.

wwII_veteran-300x200.jpg

At the same time, this care was sharply contrasted with the image that remains burned in my mind: a homeless man standing on the corner of a highway deceleration lane on a brutally cold March morning. I only briefly say the sign, as my mother was driving us to the mountains to go skiing, but the words and the look in his eyes have stayed with me all these years.

The sign read “hungry veteran will work for food” in perfect handwriting; and he had this sign gripped between two hands as he stood ramrod straight, staring into the distance with a firm jaw and haunted gaze.

No one should have to stand on a road corner, risking their health to the cold, when they risked their whole life to protect yours. A man or woman who was brave enough to enlist into the armed forces should not be forgotten by society and unable to survive. That is why you should care more about veterans once they return from service. Because in spite of all that you heard about military benefits and college-level training, if you can’t make ends meet with a college degree and less than $40,000 a year, how is a veteran supposed to?

I think many of us civilians forget one important thing: Veterans might have survived war, but that does not make them superhuman. The horrors of war are one thing. Society is another. Average people truckle beneath obligation, expectation, and stress. How can we expect veterans to return from service and reintegrate into society without any issue?

It’s another dangerous catch-22 that is in desperate need of revision.

The Benefits of Helping Out

Go beyond the donation to the Wounded Warrior Project and claiming the donation on your income tax forms. You obviously know that helping this brave men and women is important, but you may not realize that there’s a number of benefits. Befriending, mentoring, and advocating veterans does more for the community than you might have originally assumed.

honor_veterans-300x199.jpg

When you visit a wounded veteran at the hospital or commit to an organization like Canine Companions for Independence, for example, you are showing compassion towards the needs of transitioning veterans. Not only that, but conversation is healthy for both parties. You may end up getting as much out of the discussion as the veteran does. If you opt to be a puppy trainer, you can be assured that these therapy animals are getting a forever home, where they will be loved and cared for.

When you share advice in online forums or offer your professional services for free (such as PTSD coaching or legal resources), you are giving veterans access the things they might not otherwise know how to get. Happier people equals lower suicide rates and a more creative, harmonized society.

By delivering a meal, you boost the disillusioned soul. Plus, this guarantees that locally grown produce is being used and not going to waste. Less waste, less environmental impact. This will also fuel the regional economy, especially if the economy where you live is primarily agricultural.

Helping veterans tell their story through something like the Veteran’s History Project will educate future generations while giving the soldier you are aiding a creative outlet. For those who don’t like to write, use other artistic or creative pursuits, like movement therapy, art therapy, and drama therapy.

By aiding veterans with separating from service and making sure they have their basic human needs (shelter, food, and clothing) covered, you are effectively bolstering society and making it a more hospitable place for everyone.

The ripple of your single act of kindness towards a veteran works something like this:

  • The Veteran Receiver – is effectively honored by being shown respect and compassion, and is thus given opportunities that they would otherwise have been unable to seize on their own;
  • The Civilian Giver – not only is the giver thanked for their contribution to society, both privately and publicly, but they become a pay-it-forward role model. Doing good for others ultimately feels good to the giver, and so they continue;
  • The Immediate Surroundings – the positive effects emanating from each interaction begins to reverberate through the community, gaining attention, and bringing in more helping hands who want to make a positive impact;
  • The Onlooker – those who never knew how to help or did not think such feats were possible are moved, little by little, to do something that creates waves too.

Remember, a society is only as productive and efficient as the weakest link. When there is a disparity between levels of comfort and care, there is disharmony. The peace these veterans so valiantly fought for goes to waste.

Even the smallest pebble can make a ripple. You don’t have to do much, but you will become part of a social movement that is strengthening the soul of a nation. These commendable men and women have served in wars to protect your freedoms, so return the favor by helping them find their independence in society. By aiding in their reintegration, you will not only form an everlasting friendship, you will be inspired to go out and achieve great things yourself.