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Friday, 6 May 2016

Veterans—the men and women who given a tremendous amount in service to our country—are often easily forgotten.

And sometimes their needs seem so great, it's hard to know where to start helping.

“What military members veterans and their families need most is appreciation and inclusion," says Sarah Blansett, a spokeswoman for Military.com. “Certainly for those who are injured or disabled, it's always helpful to ask what you can do."

If you see a lawn needs to be moved or a driveway shoveled, just jump in and help. Blansett says that most veterans live their lives like everyone else. "They buy houses, raise families, and work hard." 

What might not be evident from the outside is the toll their work takes on their social lives, as well as their mental and emotional health. “Their service means they have obligations and risks that civilians never experience," Blansett says. “Many have spoken about the military-civilian divide, but the only true way to bridge that gap is to reach out and get to know the service member, veteran, and their families as people."

Services veterans need the most

Janet Emery, now retired, spent her career serving veterans' needs at the American Legion in Port Townsend, Wash. She says the needs are immense. In the winter, the Legion opened a homeless shelter, in which 70 percent of the users are without a permanent place to live.

 “It just blows my mind that they can't get the help that they need," she says. “A lot of them need medical help, they need jobs."

Most veterans qualify for healthcare through the VA, but sometimes those appointments can only be scheduled weeks or months in advance. For veterans in rural or otherwise remote locations, it can be nearly impossible to reach services. Military.com lists several ways to support veterans and fill in the gaps of care. They include:

  • Donating airline miles so that faraway families can come to the bedside of ailing veterans
  •  Donating time and skills to services for veterans, and doing pro-bono work if you're a lawyer or a doctor.
  • Hiring veterans and their families
  • Frequenting veteran-owned businesses

Connecting on an emotional level

Blansett says that it's important for veterans not to feel like they've become forgotten and invisible. “Thanks and appreciation are always welcome," she says, and so is asking about their specific duties in the military.“There are a plethora of jobs in the military and each person's service is different, but all are meaningful."

“Sometimes it's just that one-on-one, take somebody by the hand, 'here, you want to go for a walk on the beach?'" says Emery. “It doesn't have to be monumental. You don't have to give them money, but just time."

What not to do

Emery says there are a few things she saw in her time at the Legion that were probably meant as goodwill gestures, but weren't received that way. One is donating clothing with tears and stains to shelters or veterans' organizations. It's disrespectful and those items can't be used.

Instead, donations of new socks and underwear and toiletries are always appreciated.

Another "don't" is donating prescription medications—that could be incredibly dangerous. One other important thing is to make sure that you're careful with your donations. Many organizations claiming to benefit veterans really don't. Look up anything suspicious or unfamiliar at Great Nonprofits  or Charity Navigator.

 

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