Forget wearing a flag pin. Or slapping a "We Support the Troops" bumper sticker on your Prius. This Veterans Day push yourself to do something that's actually meaningful. Here are six ways to honor our soldiers.
Share this list with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
It's a list of organizations offering free assistance to veterans and their families. These organizations provide free medical care and psychological counseling, free legal help and job training, help in navigating the VA benefits maze, and free assistance with food, utilities and rent.
I compiled this list for all the wounded soldiers who have contacted me over the years, men and women who needed assistance but did not know where to turn. Post it on Facebook and Twitter, and you'll be connecting military families with top-notch organizations who are simply waiting for their call.
Make a commitment to get to know a veteran this year. Whether he's a colleague at the office or the neighbor down the street, think about how you can help him. Perhaps you can mark the holiday by mowing his lawn or offering to babysit his kids for the night. Maybe he'd enjoy a copy of your Dave Matthews concert recordings or two tickets to the new Bond flick. Make that connection, and you'll find an easy way to offer something personal.
Read some articles about the challenges veterans are facing. Three recommendations:
Reporter David Wood's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on wounded warriors
James Dao's ongoing coverage for the New York Times of soldiers struggling with visible and invisible scars
My series in The Nation on the personality disorder scandal
Watch a movie. Film provides a gut-level understanding of war and its aftermath in ways no other medium can. Four suggestions:
When I Came Home, a stunning look at the lives of our homeless veterans and the VA system that is failing to reach them. Director Dan Lohaus' award-winning documentary follows Iraq veterans in the process of making that bitter transition from hero to forgotten soldier, including Herold Noel, a decorated Iraq vet who returns from the Middle East only to find homelessness and PTSD-fueled nightmares.
Poster Girl, an intimate, heartbreaking portrait of Sergeant Robynn Murray, a cheerleader who graduated from high school, joined the Army, then deployed to Iraq. After a tour manning a machine gun and examining dead civilians, Murray returned home a physical and emotional wreck. Director Sara Nesson's documentary earned well-deserved Oscar and Emmy nominations, shining a needed light on a VA system that provides more frustration than assistance.
Restrepo, a heart-pounding 90 minutes in Afghanistan with the 503rd Infantry's Second Platoon. Bullets whiz past the camera as the platoon pushes into the Afghan woods to set up an outpost in the Korengal Valley, a six-mile-long stretch of land populated by heavily armed insurgents. The film has no politics, no maps, no graphs and no press conference footage. It is simply war on screen, as seen in the moment by the soldiers on the ground.
Happy New Year, a gripping drama set in a run-down VA hospital. There Sergeant Cole Lewis is struggling to recuperate after his face was scarred and his spirit shattered on the battlefield of Iraq. Director K. Lorrel Manning pulls no punches in his portrait of bleak VA hospital life or in his depiction of PTSD, which slowly drains the life from Lewis' eyes.
Donate to a veterans' organization that's making a difference:
The Bob Woodruff Foundation, which invests in community programs that help wounded veterans with job training, counseling and treatments for substance abuse and suicidal depression. In the last six years, the foundation has invested over $12 million in veterans' programs, impacting one million military families.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the first and most prominent organization of post-9/11 veterans. IAVA has proven itself an effective force in Washington, securing the passage of needed legislation, like the GI Bill of 2012.
Diveheart, which offers wounded soldiers the opportunity to scuba dive with professional supervision, providing the disabled with a newfound sense of confidence and independence.
Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured soldiers collect their disability benefits, heal their PTSD, and continue their education.
Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) has given wounded veterans a voice in court, suing the VA in a groundbreaking, class-action lawsuit for failing to provide adequate medical care.
Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), the strongest voice on behalf of female soldiers. SWAN has successfully drawn national attention to the military's epidemic of sexual violence and pushed the Pentagon towards needed reforms.
When you see a soldier in the subway or at a bar, say thanks.
A handshake and a thank you means more than you know.
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