Most Americans feel truly grateful to our nation’s veterans and military personnel, and take many opportunities available to express that gratitude. But what does one do to specifically show appreciation for those families of service members, veterans and all currently serving military, including guard and reserve personnel?
Many families within the military community often endure the emotional and/or physical challenges their loved ones tend to experience as a result of military service. A supportive, loving family can help a veteran or service member make the often difficult transition from service to civilian life, or help their loved one reintegrate after a deployment.
In many ways, these families make sacrifices or endure hardships like their loved ones who serve their country. Thirty-nine percent of military families have moved three or more times with dependents in the past 10 years, according to the 2016 Vet Tix Annual Survey and Impact Report consisting of more than 44,000 military and veteran respondents. These frequent moves may cause difficulties for children adjusting to new schools and making new friends, as well as spouses finding meaningful employment, making new friends and integrating into their new community.
Fortunately, there are national resources in place in your own community to alleviate the burdens military personnel and their families may too often experience. From professional development to financial assistance and even caring for pets, there are many of ways to give back this Veterans Day, and every day. Everyone can make a difference for veterans, members of the military and their families. Here are a few ideas for meaningful ways to show your support:
Help Military and Veteran Families Make Memories
Veterans and military families often face financial challenges that can make it difficult to afford simple luxuries such as attending a concert, show or sporting event. The ticket prices for a sporting event can easily exceed $200 for a family of four. In fact, the Vet Tix survey found that ticket cost was the main reason military and veteran families are unable to participate in entertainment opportunities.
You can help a currently serving military or veteran family make special memories and attend the show or event of their dreams by donating tickets or funds to the national nonprofit, Veteran Tickets Foundation. The organization provides tickets for sporting events, concerts, performing arts, family activities and so many other ticketed events to verified members of all branches of currently serving military, as well as honorably discharged veterans. With more than 3.5 million tickets distributed since its founding in 2008, Vet Tix has provided military and veteran families throughout the nation with opportunities to strengthen bonds with friends and family. The impact of the donation often goes far beyond a single day of fun.
Whether a veteran can reconnect with their family and community, or a service member gets out of the house for the first time since their deployment, Vet Tix events provide an environment for building memories and experiencing comradery with peers. Visit VetTix.org to learn more and to make a tax-deductible donation.
Help Care for Veterans’ Best Friends
When military service members deploy, some will have to leave behind a beloved pet. Not everyone has a family member or friend who is able and willing to take in the service member’s pet for an extended period of time.
You can help by donating to an organization that fosters pets for military personnel while deployed, such as Dogs on Deployment or Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet. You can also volunteer to foster a pet. These national organizations work to match members of the military who need foster care for their pets with families around the country willing to care for them.
Help Veterans and Military Spouses in Their Careers
Every member of a military or veteran family can benefit from support. You can help discharged veterans and military spouses by volunteering to be a career mentor. Contact the Armed Services YMCA to see if you can volunteer and serve military families in your area. The Armed Services YMCA also offers a program for military children, Operation Hero. It’s an after-school program designed to help school age (ages 6 to 12) military children improve academically and socially.
Take Care of the Caregiver
Approximately six million Americans – including parents, children and even friends – care for wounded, ill and injured military service members and veterans across all branches of service. Caregivers regularly put others before themselves, which can sometimes result in poor health, emotional stress, and feelings of isolation. Organizations like Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) exist to provide support caregivers of all ages, eras, and stages – offering peer support and access to partner organizations’ resources and services with the goal of increasing caregivers’ connectedness, hopefulness, wellness, knowledge and skills. If you’re the caregiver of a veteran or know someone who is, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a broad spectrum of resources for caregivers to include peer support networks, care for caregivers and tips and tools, to name a few. The PsychArmor Institute hosts FREE online courses taught by subject matter experts on how to effectively work with, live with or care for veterans.
Learn more about Veteran Empowerment
For more than a decade, there has been a negative societal stigma that veteran reintegration is a consistent challenge throughout the country. Most Americans with little or no first-hand connection to the military tend to perceive veterans as more likely to struggle with homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and other factors that hinder personal and professional growth. These are large misconceptions and often lead to a general perception that, so many veterans are “broken.” Got Your 6 is a nonprofit organization that believes that it’s crucial that Americans see veteran reintegration as an opportunity, because veterans are so uniquely suited to solve some of our nation’s most difficult challenges. According to Got your 6’s Veterans Civic Health Index, veterans are proving to be tremendous assets to their communities and the nation serving and succeeding in capacities since leaving uniformed service. If you’d like to know more about how you can make a positive impact by supporting veteran reintegration initiatives, check out Got Your 6 and see how you can help make a difference.
Learn More About National Nonprofits that provide support and resources your community
With thousands of organizations serving veterans and military families around the nation, there are several nonprofits you can learn more about, many of these are operating within your local community.
Blue Star Families, for example, strengthens military families through career development, caregiving and research on military life. They offer an array of programs that strengthen family bonds: an essential aspect of reintegration from military to civilian life.
Other nonprofits like Operation Homefront provide critical financial assistance to military families in need. In the last 15 years, Operation Homefront has provided more than $21 million in funding requests from nearly 15,000 military families across the United States.
The Semper Fi Fund provides urgently needed resources and lifetime support for wounded, critically ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. Case managers from the Semper Fi Fund work one-on-one with service members and veterans in order to understand and support their individual needs right now and throughout their lifetime.
Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is another nonprofit that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families. The organization helps more than one million veterans each year, offering expert benefit claims counseling and representation to nearly 300,000 veterans each year and providing no-cost rides for veterans to attend medical appointments.
The National Military Family Association provides spouse scholarships, camps for military kids and retreats for families reconnecting after deployment and for the families of the wounded, ill or injured. NMFA serves the families of the currently serving, retired, wounded or fallen members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and Commissioned Corps of the USPHS and NOAA.
If you or you know of a veteran or their family member that is experiencing stress or in crisis, refer them to Vets4Varriors. Vets4Warriors is a national nonprofit, based at Rutgers University, that provides a live, 24/7 peer support network that any veteran, service member, caregiver or family member can contact for confidential conversations and trusted solutions to physical, mental or social challenges before those challenges turn into crises.
Maybe you’re looking to volunteer for an organization that supports the Navy-Marine Corps team. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is made up of volunteers that provide in partnership with the Navy and Marine Corps, financial, educational, and other need-based assistance to active-duty and retired Sailors and Marines, their eligible family members, and survivors.
From volunteering your time with a military-focused nonprofit to monetary donations, there is a host of ways to say, “thank you” to veterans, service members and their families through meaningful actions.
Written by Steven Weintraub
Steven Weintraub is Chief Strategy Officer of the Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Vet Tix is ranked as the 2016 Top-rated Nonprofit in the United States by GreatNonprofits. Follow Steven Weintraub on Twitter @weintraub_sd.