How to support America’s veterans
It can be helpful to think of supporting veterans in a layered approach. There are meaningful and practical things that you can do as an individual to contribute, but also community, state and national policy and solutions are necessary to support veterans more fully.
At the national level, policy support and funding for veterans can result in real improvements. You can help by educating yourself about the different needs, contacting your elected representatives to let them know what matters to you, and checking candidate platforms for appropriate measures. You’ll find that some have a stronger commitment or connection to veterans’ affairs than others.
Tennessee’s Mark Green served in the military prior to his career as a medical entrepreneur and politician, and includes veterans’ affairs in his platform. His experience in the military contributed to his future success, but not all representatives with a military background have included veterans’ affairs in their platforms, so do your research and don’t be afraid to get your voice out there if your political reps have neglected to include appropriate measures in their platforms and policies.
The focus for veterans is on helping them to make the most of the rest of their life, and this can take many shapes. Unfortunately, there can be health and wellness concerns, so supportive responses and resources to help deal with physical injuries or mental health challenges such as PTSD are critical. Access to treatment and practical support where they live is important. Veterans need to receive appropriate care for acute and chronic conditions without compromising their ability to integrate or reintegrate into their chosen community.
A wider range of treatment and care options is also important. For disabled veterans, improved prosthetics, physical therapy, and equipment or home care as needed would contribute to better quality of life and outcomes. Mental health care should respond to not just significant diagnosed trauma but also more widespread cases of depression or disorientation. A greater focus on wellness and aiding veterans in achieving optimal quality of life would help bring veterans’ experiences more in line with the wider population and show more support, respect and honor for their service and sacrifices.
The US military is a popular choice for its education benefits, and many servicemen and women do take advantage of education credits and opportunities to build valuable and highly transferable skills that serve them well in civilian life. However, the transition can be rocky, and helping veterans navigate a return to civilian life, with the sudden lack of structure and different norms and expectations, is a high need. There can be a great deal of variation in opportunity depending on the community, and greater support for veteran education and employment efforts in rural areas and smaller communities as well as urban cores is important. Career and employment support for disabled, traumatized and otherwise challenged veterans is an added dimension of need.
These larger-scale efforts and interventions require funding and policy-level support at the national level, as well as support from individual communities and states. Large-scale change takes time and the efforts of a great many people. Community-level and individual efforts can make a difference for veterans now.
You can volunteer time to visit wounded vets in your nearest VA facility. The staff will be able to direct you to those lacking in family or community support who could most use your support. Loneliness and depression are a high risk for wounded vets, and your presence could make a real difference. Offering logistical support to returnees is also meaningful. Offer help with transportation, especially in more remote areas and communities underserved by alternative transport options. Keep an eye out for employment opportunities in your network, and help connect local vets with those opportunities.
Less recent returnees may still have struggles and needs that you and your community can meet. You can volunteer with and contribute to local shelters and homelessness organizations to help vets who haven’t found their way to stable housing and employment, and help with home maintenance or repairs for those who are living in less-than-stable conditions. Loneliness and depression can be a challenge for more than just the recently injured, and taking the time to visit a local vet, especially with food or a pet, can be a meaningful gesture.
Other ways to help include donating frequent-flier miles, points or food depending on capacity and needs. Charitable efforts such as building homes for local veterans or sponsoring a companion or service dog are welcome. Engaging local veterans in your community and helping them access existing supports, whether community-based or VA-based, is also effective.
Supporting America’s veterans needs to be a priority at all levels from the individual to the national. Seek out and encourage political platforms honoring and proactively supporting veterans. Take action in your community and on an individual level to offer more immediate help in your local area.