A popular Facebook meme reminds us that the “old man” walking around town with his military hat was once tougher than anyone we know. On Veterans Day, the reminder is especially poignant. You might never know of the heroic actions a veteran has taken and never have any idea how the ravages of war haunt him or her. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, the willingness of a human being to put his or her life on the line for his or her fellow citizens deserves acknowledgment.
It’s easy to forget about Veterans Day. It often falls on a weekend, and many people don’t get time off of work or school for the holiday. Commit the date to memory now, and you’ll never again forget to do something nice for the veteran in your life or your community. Veterans Day is always November 11. Here’s what you can do this November 11 to honor veterans:
1. Don’t Stereotype Veterans
Not all veterans are proud of or want to talk about their service.
Don’t pressure veterans to conform to stereotypes. It’s unfair to pester a veteran to share his or her story if he or she doesn’t want to. It’s unkind to hang a flag in a veteran’s yard without asking first. As much as possible, avoid helping veterans in ways that depend on assumptions. Ask yourself if your actions might be perceived as intrusive or judgmental. And if a veteran asks you not to do something, honor his or her request without being defensive.
2. Help a Veteran Tell His or Her Story
Veterans are living embodiments of history. The stories they tell are often far more complete and nuanced than anything you’ll find in a history textbook. Yet, many never get a chance to tell their stories. Some find that loved ones don’t want to listen. Others are worried about being offensive. And a few have simply never considered that their stories might be interesting or valuable.
The Veterans History Project offers assistance eliciting veterans’ stories. You can download a kit to record a veteran’s history on the Library of Congress website. StoryCorps offers another option. With permanent booths in some cities and mobile booths that travel throughout the year, this project collects stories of every variety. The story could eventually be played on National Public Radio, so make sure the veteran is comfortable with that.
3. Provide Support to a Military Family
Military families face a lot of upheaval. Watching a serviceperson deploy can be terrifying. The return home can be a tough adjustment. At least 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Many more struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. These challenges also affect their families. So don’t forget about military families when you reach out to veterans. Offer to drive the kids to school, to bring a meal, or to just listen. Doing so supports the family that a serviceperson depends upon.
4. Visit a Lonely Veteran
If you know a veteran who lives alone or in a senior care community, visit him or her for Veterans Day. Don’t know any veterans? Try contacting your local VA about veteran outreach programs in your area. Simply spending an hour or two with a lonely veteran can make that veteran’s life better by reminding him or her that his or her sacrifice matters.
5. Don’t Forget About Homeless Veterans
On a given night in 2016, about 40,000 veterans were homeless. It’s an uncomfortable fact, and one that many of us would rather ignore. Don’t turn a blind eye to veteran homelessness. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or donate to a charity that supports homeless veterans. Better yet, take a more direct approach. Talk to the homeless veteran you see on your corner. Take a meal to the homeless veteran in the park. Sit and chat for a while. Let the veteran know that he or she might be homeless but not forgotten or disposable.
6. Choose the Right Charities
Many people want to help veterans. Scam charities take advantage of this fact. Before giving to a charity, check its reputation with Charity Navigator. You can also ask for the charity’s annual report or ask what percentage of your donation goes directly to veterans.
7. Volunteer With Veterans
Want to directly help veterans and maybe get to know a veteran in need? Then donate your time. The VA maintains a list of options for volunteering with veterans. Opportunities range from single volunteer days to long-term projects, ensuring there’s something for everyone. Time is the most valuable commodity you have. Show you care by donating it to a veteran.
8. Remind Others of Veterans Day
Talk to your kids and family about Veterans Day and remind them of the importance of giving back to those who have sacrificed so much. Kids in particular may not understand why supporting veterans is important. Set a good example and encourage them to come along with you when you volunteer or reach out.
To gently remind others of Veterans Day, wear a poppy or a yellow ribbon on your lapel. Those who know what it means may decide to embark on their own Veterans Day project. Those who don’t might ask, providing a valuable opportunity to spread the word about this important day of recognition.