10 Ways You Can Help American Veterans

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America honors its veterans every Nov. 11, a date that commemorates the armistice that ended World War I on the same date in 1919. Most people will show their appreciation for servicemen and women on Veterans Day, but it’s important to remember that they deserve our thanks and support the other 364 days of the year. Here are just a few ways you can help a veteran, and if you don’t have any time or money to donate, don’t worry — some of these actions cost you nothing more than a well-deserved handshake or a pat on the back.

There are many ways you could help American veterans.

Wounded soldiers return from Iraq in 2010; Robert Couse-Baker

 

10. Support a Veterans Organization

There are a number of non-profit organizations that assist veterans in many ways and help pick up the slack for the overburdened Veterans Administration. Veterans can find access to psychotherapy, receive job counseling, get help applying for benefits or find out how to reconnect with a friend from the service. Cash donations and volunteer support are always welcome. Here’s a U.S. government website with a list of some prominent veterans organizations.

 

9. Donate Your Old Car to Veterans Causes

You have probably heard or seen the advertisements about donating your old car to charity for a tax benefit. Many veterans groups will also accept your clunker and use the money to help their comrades with everything from medical care to job searches. A word of warning: Some illegitimate websites and organizations have surfaced looking to cash in on such public generosity for veterans. One trusted organization is PurpleHeartCars.org, which has received hundreds of thousands of donated cars in recent years.

 

8. Organize a Letter-Writing Campaign

Many active-duty soldiers are in tough situations, far from home and loved ones, and feeling isolated and alone. You can boost their morale by organizing a letter-writing campaign through your child’s classroom, scout troop or a church group to remind them there are plenty of people who appreciate their sacrifice. Sending letters to active troops isn’t as easy as it once was in the post-9/11 era, but if you’re ready to organize a letter-writing campaign, several groups can help you get those letters into the hands of veterans. One is AMillionThanks.org. Another is the MomsofMilitary.com, a prayer and support group founded by mothers and wives of veterans.

 

7. Offer a Veteran a Ride to a Medical Appointment

Veterans young and old can have a number of medical issues such as physical disabilities and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Many need assistance getting to medical facilities, which is where you can step in by providing transportation. You might know of one or more veterans who need help in this regard, but if you don’t, check out this link to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Volunteer Transportation Network.

 

6. Attend Veterans Day Parades and Ceremonies

Many cities and towns across the United States hold some kind of Veterans Day ceremony or parade as a public display of support for veterans in the area. As you make plans to attend one, ask a veteran to join you. He or she will probably be thrilled at the opportunity. Clap until your hands hurt as the veterans drive by in the parade — they deserve it.

 

5. Visit Veterans in the Hospital

Hospitals can be lonely places for many people, but they can be especially tough for those recently wounded. When soldiers return from overseas, they are often placed in military hospitals far from their hometowns. A friendly visit will be a welcome distraction until arrangements are made to move them closer to home.

 

4. Send Care Packages

Items that civilians take for granted can be a precious commodity in far-flung theaters of operation such as Afghanistan. Things like batteries, gum, snacks, socks, DVDs and drink mixes can be just as important for the morale of the troops as boots and bullets. Whatever you send will be appreciated and remind them that they have not been forgotten. Here’s a link to the CarePackageProject.com, one of the organizations that sends care packages to troops.

 

3. Donate Money to Organizations Like the Wounded Warrior Project

WoundedWarriorProject.org and similar groups help wounded veterans with both short-term and long-term medical assistance. Some veterans need help getting physical therapy or getting fitted with the best prosthetic for a lost limb; others may need a counseling or a support group to help them with emotional issues. Whatever the need, the Wounded Warrior Project is committed to helping veterans.

 

2. Listen to a Veteran

Although it is not appropriate to ask a veteran if they killed anyone in combat, many will open up about their experiences to someone who shows a genuine interest. The younger generation can learn a lot from the older veterans who can provide some historical context for their experiences. Taking the time to hear veterans tell their stories in their own words can help civilians gain a new appreciation for those who have served.

 

1. Thank a Veteran For Their Service

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but a veteran in your family, your neighborhood or seated next to you on a plane will be thrilled if you thank them for their service. If you’re standing at a Starbucks counter in an airport and a soldier in fatigues is in line behind you, buy him or her a cup of coffee and thank them. The fact you took a moment to acknowledge them, whether they fought in World War II or are just home from Afghanistan, your thanks will remind them why they raised their right hand and swore to defend their country. They certainly did not expect to get rich and famous serving in the military, but a simple “thank you” can make them feel like a movie star.

 

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Mike Phelps earned a B.A. in history from the University of Connecticut and an M.A. in military history from Norwich University. He published a book about the War on Terror called A Short History of the Long War.