Are you interested in doing more for the veterans in your local community but don't know what to do or how to get started? There is no doubt that service members, veterans, and their families often need your support. However, if there is one universal truth about the military community, it is this: as a group, it is intensely self-reliant. Unfortunately, far too many veterans and their families consider an appeal for help as a sign of weakness.
If all of this is true, how can you or any member of your community do more to give back to the men and women who served our country?
Step 1: Learn About Your Local Military Community
It stands to reason that the first step towards helping a veteran is to ask veterans what they need. However, actually doing this is easier said than done. After all, veterans are often difficult to spot in a crowd and many are reluctant to self-identify.
Before you take the initiative to strike up a conversation with your military neighbors, we recommend taking a few minutes to learn about military culture and the broader challenges nearly all military families face. Fortunately, our friends at PsychArmor offer a wide range of free online videos that can help you navigate these waters. While all of their courses are excellent, we particularly recommend "15 Things Veterans Want You To Know", "Veterans 201: Military Families", and "Invisible Wounds of War: Overview".
Once you have some basic knowledge, look for an opportunity to meet with the veterans in your local area. You can usually spot veterans on special holidays, like Veterans Day or the 4th of July. However, if you aren't willing to wait that long, you can scan your local paper for notices of veteran-related meetings. If you attend a local church or participate in a local club, you can also ask the other members to arrange an introduction with veterans in your community.
When you finally have a chance to meet, simply introduce yourself by expressing your interest in honoring their service by giving back to those who sacrificed to defend our country. While many veterans are reluctant to talk about their military service, most are quite open to discussing the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life. And while many of these problems are universal, you will likely discover that the veterans in your local community also face unique barriers, perhaps related to education or housing or health. In the course of your conversation, you might strike up a new friendship and perhaps uncover a way to apply your unique skills and experience in the service of the veteran community.
Step 2: Reach Out To Local Veteran-Nonprofits
Now that you have taken some time to learn about the challenges confronting the local veteran community, it's time to learn how local nonprofits endeavor to address these issues. To get started, you can use a resource locator tool like Warrior Gateway to quickly find the veteran-related nonprofit organizations in your area. Take a few minutes to research the websites of these organizations to learn what you can about their programs and activities. Once you feel you have the lay of the land, reach out to one or more of the organizations on your list to arrange a meeting. In virtually all cases, you will likely discover that these organizations are thrilled to meet with you and answer your questions. Indeed, you might discover that they are all too eager to get you involved in their efforts. If you choose to do so, the key is to find a good fit between your skills and experience, on one hand, and their programs, on the other.
Step 3: Contact Your Elected Officials
Ultimately the responsibility of caring for our military community rests on the shoulders of our government. It is therefore appropriate to ask your elected representatives for their insights into these challenges and the strategies they intend to use to solve them.
To get the ball rolling, you should first identify your local officials and make appointments to meet with them in person. We recommend starting with city and county officials, including the mayor, city council, and/or the county commission. City council and county commission meetings often include a public comment period, which offers an excellent opportunity to ask how your representatives view the veteran community and how they are addressing the challenges local veterans face. If you are feeling particularly motivated, you might also consider meeting your state and federal representatives. To do so, you can use a search engine like Common Cause to identify these officials and arrange a meeting.
You might be surprised to learn that a little initiative on your part can go a long way toward helping the veterans and military families in your community to live a happy and dignified life.