The panel consisted of former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar; senior adviser for the Corporation for National and Community Service, Koby Langley; Jonathan Sherin, M.D., PhD, executive vice president of veterans affairs for Volunteers of America; and Kelly Caffarelli, the president of The Home Depot Foundation, which has committed more than $80 million to help returning veterans.
Also in the discussion was the hopelessness that so many vets face. Demonstrated by the growing suicide rates for veterans (22 per day, on average), veterans are feeling increasingly isolated and abandoned.
Throughout the discussion, the panelists continued to refer to the fact that so many veterans feel forsaken by the U.S. and that, while applauding those who are returning from war is a significant gesture, it does little to help them with the many day-to-day challenges they face.
Here are some suggested ways to help:
- Identify veterans in your community and make sure that they’re included in community events. Don’t be afraid to knock on their door and introduce yourself. Let them know that you’re available if they, or their families, need help. Just knowing that someone cares and is there in a time of need goes a long way.
- Write a letter of gratitude to a veteran; it’s a simple act but letting them know that their service is appreciated is always a good way to show your support.
- Volunteer at a veterans hospital or with a local veterans organization. Volunteers of America has affiliates across the country and many of them provide housing and services for veterans. You can find affiliates in your area at www.VolunteersofAmerica.org. Volunteers of America also helps homeless veterans. More than 60,000 veterans around the nation are struggling with homelessness and the numbers are expected to escalate in the coming years.
- Help out veteran families in your community by offering to assist with lawn care and gardening. When a spouse is deployed, families at home are often stretched and lawn care is often difficult to keep up.
- Offer to provide transportation for local veterans to work or to receive medical care.
- Donate small things like magazines, DVDs, books and clothing to local veteran organizations. While money donations are always good, many vets also cannot afford to buy small things like magazines due to limited income and high medical bills.
- Donate gift cards for grocery stores and restaurants or help to prepare meals for veteran families either by adopting those families in your community or through veteran organizations such as Volunteers of America.
- Provide foster care for a pet while a deployed soldier or wounded veteran is receiving medical care away from home.
- Start a veteran support operation in your community by hosting an event (bake sale, 5K walk or run, etc.) to raise funds in support of veterans. You can ask your homeowners association, church, synagogue or school to help in organizing donations.
- Offer your services as a babysitter or tutor to a family with a deployed or wounded service member.
Don’t be afraid to ask veterans and their families directly how you can help and what they might need. Then rally your community together to help support them. Most veterans are reticent to ask for help so you might need to contact family members to best determine what they might need. Check with national charitable organizations too to see if they can assist in providing whatever support is needed. Build a neighborhood support group to assist veterans and families.
Ask your employer if your company has a veterans hiring program. If not, see if they’d be willing to set one up and then assist in working with local job programs to help in finding veterans and providing employment.
For more ways to volunteer and help, visit www.VolunteersofAmerica.org.
(Editor’s Note: This guest “Viewpoint” was written and submitted to the Cleveland Daily Banner by Veterans of America, one of the largest national providers of housing and programs for homeless veterans and their families. The organization is a national, faith-based nonprofit dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable groups: seniors, at-risk youth, the homeless, the disabled and America’s veterans.)