For some of the approximately 22 million veterans in the U.S. today, the return to civilian life is met with significant and various struggles. Here are things to keep in mind that will help us support them and show our appreciation for all they do.
Fighting mental health, medical and family issues
With the emotional, physical and personal stress inherent in military service (and especially related to combat-related duty), major concerns for veterans can include:
- Mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from memories of combat violence and other traumatic and life-threatening experiences. At any given time, about 30% of veterans suffer from PTSD, compared to about four % of adults in the general population. About 20% of vets with PTSD also experience issues with alcohol or drug abuse.
- Other physical and mental health struggles such as loss of limbs, severe burns, limited mobility or traumatic brain injuries. Veterans with these impairments often face multiple surgeries and grueling rehabilitation sessions.
- Homelessness at a higher rate than the general population. Although veterans make up about seven % of the overall U.S. population, homeless veterans represent about 12% of the homeless population. Every night in the United States, about 50,000 veterans are homeless. However, the rate of veteran homelessness has declined by more than 30% since its highest level in 2010.
- Education deficits compared to the general population. Since many veterans joined the service right after high school, fewer veterans have college degrees. Only 26% of U.S. veterans graduated from college compared to more than 30% of the general population.
- A lack of understanding from loved ones and the general public about what military service was like and the challenges associated with integrating into life back home.
How you can help
If you’d like to help vets or those in active military service, here are five ways you can get involved:
1. Help vets get medical care and other resources.
Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is a nonprofit that drives veterans to medical appointments, assist them in filing benefit claims (e.g., VA health benefits or Medicare health insurance) with the government and helps vets with medical, employment and other general needs. The DAV needs volunteers to:
- Drive veterans to appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country.
- Volunteer at VA hospitals.
- Assist veterans in your community with needs such as grocery shopping, running errands or helping with yard work.
If you’d like to help a veteran, learn more about opportunities to volunteer at DAV.
2. Build a home for a vet.
A couple of different organizations build new homes or adapt existing homes for veterans with severe injuries. If you’re a contractor or tradesman, Building Homes for Heroes and Homes for Our Troops can both use your skills to help build homes for injured vets.If you don’t have building expertise, you can still get involved by donating funds, goods and services or land.
3. Provide a service dog for a vet.
Service dogs can help vets who have PTSD, brain injuries, vision impairments and physical injuries. Many communities have organizations that provide service dogs to vets. Some organizations such as the Puppy Jake Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa, use volunteers to raise puppies as service dogs. Other organizations such as Puppies Behind Bars in New York City train prison inmates to raise dogs for vets.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating for a similar organization in your area, search online for “service dogs for veterans” in your community.
4. Help homeless vets.
Stand Down programs for homeless veterans are local one- to three-day events that provide a single spot for vets to receive food, shelter, health screenings and other needs. To volunteer for a Stand Down event near you, check with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
5. Help active troops talk to loved ones.
USO Operation Phone Home allows troops to connect with loved ones through free phone calls and high-speed internet access available at USO service centers. For service members in remote areas who can’t access a service center, the USO offers free prepaid international calling cards.