On November 11, Veterans Day, citizens across the United States of America commemorate all of the brave men and women who have served in the military, those who sacrificed their own lives to protect ours. Our veterans are some of America’s true heroes, and they deserve to be celebrated for their honor and commitment. After all, just about all of us probably know a veteran–a grandparent, a sibling, a close friend, a parent, a spouse. Veterans come from all walks of life, but one thing they have in common is their bravery and nobility.
Let’s look at a few ways to honor the men and women who have served our country:
- Donate time or money to a military-oriented charity. There are plenty to choose from, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFA), Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warriors…there are literally dozens of reputable military charities listed on Charity Navigator, and they help provide needed funds for disabled veterans who need assistance; social services for active service members and veterans; and family support to assist military personnel and their families with housing, schooling, financial aid, and more.
But these organizations need more than just money. Offering your time is just as valuable a donation, and it’s even more rewarding. Not only are you helping out a group that needs assistance, but volunteering also allows you to develop bonds with veterans, gives you a sense of pride knowing that your work is lifting others, and adds impressive experience to your college application and resume. Some organizations that are always looking for volunteers include Project EverGreen, Dogs on Deployment, Operation Homefront, The Gary Sinise Foundation (yep, Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump), and Operation Gratitude.
- Spend time with a veteran. This may be a bit tricky this year due to COVID-19, so it might need to be replaced with a FaceTime call or possibly a raincheck visit, but the act of spending quality time with a veteran is so meaningful for both parties. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) makes it easy to find a VA facility (whether it’s a hospital/medical center, vet center, or a community living/retirement center) by state. Just find one close to you and visit their website or give them a call to find out what their visitation protocol is for COVID-19. If an in-person visit isn’t possible, they may have alternative ideas on how you can brighten a veteran’s day.
- Visit a military cemetery or memorial. You can also pay your respects to veterans by paying a visit to a veterans’ cemetery or monument. If you have a relative resting at one of these sites, it’s obviously a very personal experience to visit one of these cemeteries. But while you’re there, take a walk around to observe some of the other gravesites, reflect on who those brave men and women were and what they meant to their families, and appreciate the sacrifices they all made for our country and all of its citizens.
Another way to commemorate veterans is by going to one of the many beautiful war memorials throughout the country. Washington, DC alone has some incredible monuments and memorials dedicated to veterans, including the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, World War II, Korean War, and so many more. But a trip to the nation’s capitol isn’t required to visit a war memorial. Odds are there is one within driving distance of your town.
- Adopt a family. With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas not far behind, this is the perfect opportunity to adopt a military family. With COVID-19 still going strong, this is a wonderful way to show your appreciation for veterans and active service members. Through Adopt a Family, you can “adopt” up to three military families for the holidays–this involves purchasing Christmas gifts for kids under 18 and also helping out the adults in the family with gift cards and money toward groceries and other necessities. I’ve participated in “adopt-a-family” programs, and they’re very rewarding not only for the recipient but also for the giver. If you’re more comfortable commemorating or donating from the safety of your own home, a military Adopt a Family is the perfect organization.
- #BeThere. It’s well-documented how deeply affecting and traumatizing war is on soldiers and their families. Many veterans come home from battle with both physical and emotional wounds that are incredibly difficult to overcome without the proper help and support. That’s where #BeThere comes in. The Veterans Crisis Line is an amazing resource for vets and active service members who can call at any time and speak to a qualified responder about any type of crisis they might be dealing with. There are also resources for homeless veterans and women veterans, as well as mental health information. So, where do you come in? Well, you can start by spreading the word on social media with the #BeThere hashtag, which brings awareness to the campaign, which is designed to bring awareness to veterans who are suffering in silence. Individually, you can send a gift to a veteran or even a simple email or text message just to let them know that they’re in your thoughts and to help get them through a potentially difficult moment.
No matter how you decide to commemorate American veterans and active members of the military, you’re doing an important deed by recognizing their courage and the sacrifices they’ve made for you, me, and every citizen in this country. While Veterans Day may not have all of the pomp and circumstance as Memorial Day, it’s truly an important holiday, a day where Americans can reflect on what these selfless men and women did for their country and for complete strangers. So, on November 11, whether you decide to make a donation or volunteer or simply have your own moment of silence, know that you’re doing your part to celebrate our veterans.