November 11th is Veterans Day, a day to remember, reflect and honor the sacrifices that our service men and women have made to protect our country’s freedom. It’s important to acknowledge and thank our veterans not only on this day, but whenever the opportunity arises for their willingness to put their lives on the line for the common good. While our veterans may have fought in different battles throughout different eras, they all share the common experience of training, combating, and a life that is ever changing once they return from war with more than their duffle bags and dog tags. According to the National Association of Mental Health, nearly one in four veterans showed signs of mental illness conditions, such as PTSD, TBI or depression. For other veterans, learning how to live with the loss of a limb or immobility can be a long journey.
Here are a few simple ways you can help make a difference on Veterans Day for our 23 million veterans:
- Volunteer with DAV – Disabled American Veterans is a non-profit charity organization dedicated to providing support to American veterans and their families. Volunteer with DAV and make a difference in the lives of our nation’s heroes by driving veterans to appointments, participating in recreational programs or simply providing companionship to VA hospital patients.
- Understand Veteran Mental Health Issues – According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, on average 22 veterans take their own lives each day. In addition, 1 in 5 people who commit suicide daily are veterans. Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are the two most common challenges faced by veterans after returning to civilian life. Many of our veterans are suffering in silence, which is why they need our support.
- Connect with Veterans in Your Community- Social support for veterans from organizations such as VFW, American Legion and others in your local community can be strong factors against suicide. Reach out to these and other veterans organizations in your community to find out how you can help. When veterans feel connected to a community or has people to turn to, they are less likely to commit suicide.
- Know the Warning Signs of Depression– Signs of depression include prolonged sadness or irritability, changes in sleep, appetite, energy, problems with memory and concentration, and increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse.
- One resource that is available 24/7 is the National Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255)
- Sponsor a Companion Dog – More than a third of our veterans have or will experience PTSD from their time in the service. Puppies Behind Bars is a unique program which utilizes prisoners to train companion dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. By sponsoring a dog or donating, you can help improve the life of a veteran.
- Send a Letter or Package- Operation Gratitude send 200,000+ care packages and hand-written letters to Veterans, Active Duty, Wounded Warriors and their caregivers yearly. Their mission is to lift the spirits and meet the needs of the military community, while providing volunteer opportunities for civilians to express their gratitude to all who have served. Find out how you can donate or get involved here.
- Simply Say Thank You- The simplest gesture you can do to make an impact in the lives of a veteran is simply say “thank you for your service.” While it hardly takes any effort, many veterans have never heard the words. If you know a veteran or pass by someone in uniform, say “Thanks!” It may make his or her day.
It’s important to find ways to get involved and show your appreciation to our veterans not just on November 11th but every day. Through understanding their mental health, offering companionship, assisting them with daily tasks or simply saying thank you, you can make a difference in their lives.