They are the best our country has to offer. America’s finest. Those who have fought, who have bled; who have lost precious time with their loved ones, who have witnessed horrors so that we don’t have to. Now they are home, and it’s time to serve those who have served us, to protect those who have protected us, to fight for those who have fought for us.
If you are looking for an opportunity to make a true difference in this world, there’s no better place to begin than volunteering for one of the many organizations dedicated to serving America’s veterans. This article will give you some strategies for getting started—and show you why you should!
The Power of Giving
Anyone who has ever done volunteer work knows that you end up getting back far more than you ever give. Serving others is good for the soul and spirit; as you give of yourself—your time, your energy, your compassion—to heal others, you’re going to find that those spiritual wounds that are a part of living and being human, begin to heal as well. You’ll find that you’re getting back the joy and comfort you give, many times over.
And the gifts of giving aren’t just a feeling—they’re scientific fact. So if you’re looking for a sense of purpose, direction, or meaning in your life working with veterans’ organizations is an incredible place to start.
Why Veterans, Exactly?
On the surface, it’s obvious. No matter what your personal politics may be. No matter how you may feel about the government or its military policies, one thing we all can—or should—agree on is the incredible sacrifices made by and courage of our service members and their families.
Who is more deserving of our efforts and our care than those who have given so much to protect our lives and our freedoms? And yet, in America today, the needs of our service members are not only enormous, but they’re also woefully underserved.
Studies show, for instance, that 11% of the homeless population today are veterans, that 50% of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and 70% of homeless veterans suffer from addiction. No veteran should ever come home to a life on the streets, to a life of substance abuse and psychological torment. And certainly no veteran should ever be neglected or forgotten.
Nobody’s Looking for Perfect
Thankfully, you don’t have to be Superman, Wonder Woman, or Mother Teresa to volunteer. All you need is to care and to be ready to back that caring up with action. Sure, it can be intimidating to take on the caregiving role when you know that the person you are serving has probably experienced more trauma than you can ever imagine.
But you don’t have to pretend to know what they’ve been through or to understand what they’ve seen. All you need is to care. And to be there.
And yes, if you’re one of the millions of veterans who left the service, we’re talking to you, too. There are soldiers and military families out there who are hurting. Hearing your story of survival may just be what they need to endure. Having your understanding, your compassionate ear, or your swift kick in the butt might just be the answer to helping them learn to live again.
Unleash Your Talents
One of the best things about volunteering is that the possibilities are endless. There are countless ways to serve your community—and have a lot of fun doing it! So think about what you most enjoy and what you’re best at.
If you’re great at drawing, for example, you might follow the example of illustrator, Victor Juhasz, and visit military hospitals to create portraits and sketches for our recovering soldiers and their families. If you have a background in medicine, psychiatry, counseling, or social work, you might harness that training to support soldiers as they return home, especially in detecting and addressing the symptoms of PTSD.
Who Needs You Most
No matter how idyllic or prosperous your community may be, there will always be particular pockets of need. In every community, there are sections of the population that are overlooked and underserved. All too often, as we’ve already seen, you will find a disproportionate number of veterans where you find the poor, sick, addicted, and homeless. Identifying who are most in need and where in your community they are is a great way to figure out how best to serve.
For example, millions of veterans who served prior to 1970 suffered significant exposure to cancer-causing asbestos during their service. Now, tens of thousands of these same veterans are suffering from mesothelioma, a rare and lethal form of lung cancer. These veterans need support; they need care; they need understanding. And who better to give it than someone who has also served? Volunteer at your local Veteran’s Administration or work with the American Cancer Society to provide rides to chemotherapy treatment or to organize Relay for Life.
Likewise, if you’d like to raise money to ensure our veterans receive the services they need while having a little fun yourself, then why not get involved with an organization like the Wounded Warrior Project or the Semper Fi Fund? Programs like these sponsor an array of fundraising events throughout the year, from marathons and cycling events to streaming gaming competitions!
And if all of these appeal, but you’re not quite sure what’s going to be the best fit for you, then why not hook up with one of the United States’ oldest, largest, and most prestigious veterans’ organization, the USO? There’s perhaps no place better to help get you to where you can do the most good!
Our veterans are the very best of us, and they deserve the very best from us. In every town and city, there are veterans groups and organizations that need your support, there are populations of veterans who are struggling, in pain, and in need of care and compassion. In hospitals and rehabilitation centers around the country, our veterans are suffering the mental and physical torments of war. Around the world, soldiers and civilians are learning to live with wounded bodies, minds, and spirits. You may not have walked the path they have tread, but you can be the guidepost that shows the way home.
Image courtesy of Aaron Burden.