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Freedom is something many Americans take for granted, but for every day we enjoy our freedom is a day a military member has served fighting for it. Whether they are active soldiers or veterans, these brave souls have put their lives on the line to protect our nation's civilians.
Giving back doesn't have to just be about donating money, and there are a number of easy ways you can help veterans. It can be as simple as visiting an injured veteran or as hands-on as building a home for a military family in need. I assure you though, any that way you show your gratitude is sure to be appreciated and maybe even commended.
Say, "Thank you!"
One might think the advice to say, "Thank you," to military members is obvious, but you would be surprised how many of us need a reminder. Well, here is your reminder! Next time you see a veteran or active military person (and not just on Veterans Day or Memorial Day), show your appreciation and gratitude by saying, "Hello," and, "Thank you." These men and women have put their lives at risk for our safety and independence, and if hearing those two little words can brighten their day, then we should all be screaming it from the rooftops. It may seem silly and small to you, but to a vet who has served, it could mean a whole lot more.
Volunteer at a local veteran organization.
I know what many of you are thinking, "Volunteer! I don't have time for that! Where could I even do something like that? I don't know anything about helping veterans! What could I do that would help?" Listen, yes, volunteering takes some of your time, but just think about who you're doing it for and what it could do for someone else. I promise you, it is a rewarding feeling you will not regret. In fact, many people say volunteering can be addicting as it causes the brain to release endorphins. This sense of euphoria is also known as the "helpers high." Organizations like The National Veteran Foundation rely on people to volunteer their time to run the programs in order to keep costs down and to provide the most to the service members who need it. That means answering phones, opening mail, cleaning, organizing, and whatever it takes to keep an office running. There is no job too small and no time too short when it comes to making a difference.
Join Operation Gratitude.
Many people prefer to work directly through an organization when it comes to giving back. Operation Gratitude is a popular one among veterans, where you can join other grateful Americans in your area to donate, assemble, and/or send care packages to those in need or overseas. From military families and caregivers to wounded and retired veterans, every care package made truly makes a difference, and you can double down on your efforts by picking up gifts that help support veteran organizations to send to active duty soldiers!
Assist in job training.
For those who are able to volunteer their time, assisting with veterans adjusting back to civilian life and finding jobs is critical! This is one of the hardest hurdles service members have to face. By contacting your local veteran program or by working with an established organization like Hire Heroes USA, you can help veterans prepare for a career post-military. It could be as simple as editing resumes or as involved as hosting mock interviews, but all of these activities are crucial when it comes to starting a life off-duty. Hire Heroes USA gives volunteers the access to do all this and more, and has partnered with various employers to host actual job fairs and boards where people can volunteer.
Visit a VA hospital.
For those offering their time to a facility, visiting a VA hospital is a great way to do so. You would be surprised how many wounded and disabled American veterans don't have visitors. You would think that these are our nation's heroes; and yet, they sit alone day to day with no one to talk to. How is that possible? Start by reaching out to your local facility for wounded veterans and see if you could arrange a visit with them. Suggest that it could be in a group setting, or perhaps there is a specific veteran who could use some one-on-one attention. Many of these men and women suffer from PTSD, which can leave them withdrawn and socially isolated. One of the simplest ways veterans with PTSD can get help is to have a friend who is willing to listen to them, or just sit around watching TV so they know they are in a safe environment. Though sitting with people and sharing stories seems like a small feat, you can be extremely beneficial to their recovery.
Send a letter.
Everyone loves to receive something nice in the mail. Whether it's from family, an old friend, or an admirer, opening that envelope to find something personally suited to you will always make you feel special. So now just imagine you are a veteran or an active soldier stationed away from home, and how wonderful it would feel to receive a letter from a complete stranger thanking you for your services. Personally, I think this is something every grade of every school should do. For the cost of a stamp and five minutes of your time, you can bring comfort to a homesick soldier, a discouraged military member, or an injured veteran. You don't need to write a novel or anything of great importance, just keep your message positive, speak your heart, and show your appreciation. Many start with a simple card on Veterans or Memorial Day and wind up with pen pals and friendships across the world. This is an incredibly simple action with a tremendous reaction.
Give a vet a ride.
If you have a driver's license, a great way to give back to our disabled and wounded American vets is by volunteering to transport them to and from doctor appointments, interviews, or even just the grocery store. Many vets are unable to drive or do not have a car; and without the help from generous humans like yourself, they will not be able to receive the medical attention or resources they need to survive on the home-front. To learn more on how you can give free rides to vets, contact your local VA medical facility or the Department of Veterans Affairs Transportation Network.
Donate clothing and household items.
Many of us donate clothing and other items multiple times a year, so why not make one of those donations to a charity that serves veterans? The Salvation Army does an incredible job with their seasonal reminders and simple front-door pickups when you're considering donation services, giving you no reasons not to help out. I mean, you literally just have to gather your stuff, schedule an online pickup appointment, and go on your merry way. They accept and deliver a variety of items to households, rehab centers, VA hospitals, and addiction centers. There are tons, I mean tons, of organizations to donate to that help veterans too, and any one you choose can be helping a veteran in need. We are pulled in many directions as to where help is needed most, but I assure you, it feels great to serve the people who have served our country regardless of which route you choose to observe.
Help build a home.
If you are looking to give back and give back in a major way, then helping build and/or modify a home is where it's at. Take the incredible organization, Building Homes for Heroes for example, who are committed to rebuilding lives and homes for those who were injured during war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These homes are custom built to meet the needs of the wounded warriors, and are given mortgage-free to veterans and their families. This isn't just for contractors with experience wearing tool belts either, anyone can help! From painting and plumbing to wiring and furnishing, there are a thousand ways to pitch in and give one of the best gifts for service members returning home that they could ever get.
Pick up a veteran's tab.
We have all heard of the "pay it forward" movement where you do something kind for a stranger out of the goodness of your heart. Well, this is still paying it forward, but applies more specifically to a vet. Next time you see a military member in uniform or someone who is obviously a veteran, one of the easy ways you can help veterans is to pick up their tab, whether it be for coffee, breakfast, or a tank of gas. You're not offering because you know that person needs it per se, but because you want to thank them for everything they have sacrificed to serve our country and keep us safe. You can do this anonymously or with a quick thank you; but either way, it will definitely bring a smile to their well-deserving face.