There are plenty of ways to help veterans, active-duty military members, and their families. Here are 10 ways you can help, from sending a care package to driving veterans to their medical appointments.
1. Donate an old cell phone
Cell Phones for Soldiers help provide cost-free communication for veterans and military families. The charity does not provide cell phones directly to soldiers, but rather refurbishes donated phones and uses the proceeds to provide emergency financial assistance to veterans and to purchase international calling cards for troops.
2. Send a care package or letter
In addition to helping people send care packages to active duty members, Operation Gratitude’s “Welcome Home Heroes” initiative sends care packages to veterans. “Just as with our care packages to deployed troops, we want to put a smile on the face of every veteran who courageously served our nation,” says Operation Gratitude’s founder Carolyn Blashek on the organization’s website. Veteran care packages can include many of the items sent to active-duty troops, including personal letters of thanks, snacks, books, magazines and hygiene items.
The mailroom delivers smiles. That’s why former U.S. Marines Ray Smith and Sam Meek founded Sandboxx, a mobile app that turns your typed letter into physical mail and ships it directly to basic training or military bases around the world.
3. Help build homes for injured vets
Homes for Our Troops builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans who have served in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. Homes for Our Troops raises money to provide building materials and professional labor free of charge to vets and their families. So far, the organization has built more than 320 homes for severely wounded veterans nationwide.
4. Drive a veteran to an appointment
The DAV Transportation Network coordinates volunteers to drive veterans to medical appointments, so even vets living far away from VA hospitals can receive the treatment they need.
5. “Stand Down” to help homeless vets rebuild their lives
Stand Down is a grassroots community event that provides a temporary ‘base of operations’ where homeless veterans and their families can access hygiene essentials, clean clothes, warm meals, medical care, and emotional and legal counseling. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans provides the framework for Stand Down, and volunteers can use these tools to organize a Stand Down in their own community.
6. Help a veteran heal with an animal companion
Pets for Vets pairs veterans with shelter animals, which can help veterans deal with PTSD and other emotional and physical injuries that can make it difficult to transition back to civilian life. It’s a win-win situation: “When a veteran is matched with the right pet, both lives change for the better,” says Pets for Vets on their website. “The veteran saves the animal and welcomes him/her into a loving home. The pet provides the veteran with unconditional love and support, easing stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety.”
7. Help service members and their families succeed in the civilian workplace
The 100 Entrepreneurs Foundation provides information and ideas for seriously wounded service members interested in starting their own businesses after serving the military. Veterans and their family members attend classes and learn skills that will help them as they prepare to join the civilian workforce.
What happens when three vets and an admissions expert start a biz? Service to School is a nonprofit that offers test and interview prep, résumé and transcript reviews, networking and more to help veterans and service members gain admission to colleges and grad schools.
8. Donate airline miles
The Hero Miles program provides round-trip airfare for wounded, injured and ill service members who need to travel home, or to an authorized event. The program also funds travel for service members’ loved ones to visit them at medical centers, as well as funds to attend the Dignified Transfer of Remains at Dover Air Force Base. The Hero Miles website provides details for donating airline miles through four participating airlines: Alaska, Delta, Frontier and United.
9. Help prison inmates raise service dogs for veterans
The Puppies Behind Bars program teaches prison inmates to raise labrador retriever puppies as service dogs for veterans who have been wounded or are suffering from PTSD. Not only does the program help veterans, it also helps inmates find a sense of purpose. “Puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months,” the organization explains on their website. “As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it.”
10. Help a service member call home
Operation Phone Home, organized by the USO, helps service members make free calls home, as well as providing free access to computers with high-speed internet access, and access to WiFi on service members’ own devices. “More and more expectant fathers take advantage of this free internet access to virtually accompany their wives into the delivery room for the birth of their children,” the organization notes on its website.
11. Help a veteran get back to civilian life.
Hire Heroes USA—with its team of former military professionals—offers free career coaching, mentoring, mock interviews and job sourcing to transitioning service members and spouses. They help translate specific military experience into a résumé—and a future career.
Grammy-winning country musician Zac Brown welcomes vets to his Georgia-based Camp Southern Ground, which features free veteran-focused workforce and wellness programs (Warrior Week and Warrior PATHH) that help post-9/11 military members find community and direction when transitioning to civilian life.
Segs4Vets: The group “Segs4Vets” gives away Segway scooters to injured war vets. The Segways are touted as being better than wheelchairs for mobility, health and morale.
By Lindsay Lowe